Cllr Coyne On Liverpool City Region Consultation

We recognise the case for some kind of Combined Authority (CA) for Liverpool City Region, but we have disagreements with the current prospectus for such an authority.

We recognise that the effects of the government’s austerity programme have hit our subregion particularly hard, combining with pre-existing problems of deprivation and relatively high levels of unemployment. Therefore if it is true that the existence of a CA will unlock new streams of government funding then, in the current crisis, it would be understandable to accept the creation even of a flawed body, with the hope of redeeming and reforming it in the future.

We have a fundamental disagreement with the stated overriding aim of the City Region to promote perpetual economic growth. We think that placing the adjective “sustainable” in front of the term “growth” cannot remove the paradox of aiming for perpetual growth within a finite planet with finite resources. Sooner or later there needs to be a transition to the aim of a steady state economy.

However, given the current desperate state of the local economy, we recognise that a period of catch-up growth is needed now. We disagree with any built-in growth-dependency – having a subregional plan for the future that only works when the economy grows.

The prospectus focusses, too, on externally generated economic activity and says little about fostering economic resilience. Ambitions to shorten supply chains and to produce and provide locally are omitted. There is no mention of the prospect of a local currency for the subregion, even though this would be a highly practical extension on the platform of Merseytravel’s “Walrus” card.

Further, the prospectus is weak on any non-economic issues such as health and the local environment. In particular, poor air quality, high rates of pedestrian and cycle casualties and low levels of cycle use could be seen as opportunities for subregional transport interventions, but are not.

Turning now to the issues of democracy, we see some serious weaknesses in what is proposed. We accept the principle that whatever emerges as a governance structure for the subregion should cost no more than the existing arrangements. Citizens will not accept any expansion in bureaucracy, especially at a time of austerity.

However, the proposals for cabinet and scrutiny are weak. Each constituent district would nominate two cabinet members and two members of a scrutiny committee. In practice, the domination of one political party within each district is likely to lead to most or all of those appointments being made from one political party, with the odd opposition politician included.

Yet the responsibility to scrutinise and to make creative pre-decision policy proposals across a subregion is a huge commitment. It would be a severe test of a part-time opposition party ward councillor with many other competing demands.

If we are taking subregional governance seriously, there is a strong case for a directly elected assembly which would call the cabinet to account. The Greater London Assembly provides a model. Proportional representation, as exists for the GLA, would ensure that the composition of a strong scrutiny body contained a diversity of political perspectives, rather than a sycophantic echo chamber.

If necessary, and it probably would be necessary, there should be reduction in the number of councillors in each of the district authorities to pay for the introduction of the subregional assembly.

Finally, it should be recorded that the timing of this consultation, coinciding with the school holiday period and lasting a short time, has not created the best opportunity for analysis and discussion of the issues of this important constitutional step. That is regretted. And this response to the consultation should therefore be seen as provisional, provided within the deadline for the purposes of this consultation, but not a definitive statement of the position of Liverpool Green Party.

Written by Cllr John Coyne