A CONTROVERSIAL think tank report claims Liverpool was “misled” over whether its £130m ‘City Deal’ with government really required an elected mayor. Political Reporter Marc Waddington investigates.
WHEN the government announced its planned ‘City Deals’, ministers said they would be a chance for cities to “reap the benefits of new financial freedoms and investment opportunities available to them.”
What set apart Liverpool’s £130m deal from those being struck between Whitehall and Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and others was that on May 3, the city voted in its first elected mayor.
Everyone else got the chance to hold a referendum on whether or not they wanted one.
The result was that the populations of all the other core cities – with the exception of Bristol – rejected the idea and chose to keep, for good or ill, the status quo.
But with each of them securing City Deals regardless, some sceptics are questioning what advantage Liverpool secured by changing its form of government.
According to new Liverpool think tank ExUrbe, the city was “misled” by the council into adopting a mayor, and it was not a deal-breaker for City Deal.
Certainly the original claim to Labour Party members from (then) council leader Joe Anderson in February was that “If we wanted these powers and this money, we had two options” – either to form a combined authority of all six Merseyside councils, or “to go for a Liverpool City Mayor”.
But Cities minister Greg Clark said last November that “no City Deal is conditional on having any particular governance arrangement” Both parties surely can’t be right.
The council’s explanation ahead of the February meeting which ratified the mayoral model stated that “although this package is not directly contingent upon an elected Mayor or a combined authority, there can be no doubt the mayoral model completely satisfies the government requirement” and “our negotiating position has been significantly strengthened by the willingness to change to an elected mayor model.”
So, is it actually the case that Whitehall didn’t lay down any demands, but said changing the system would work in the city’s favour?
But if so, how does that sit with the fact that most other cities are not changing their governance but are still set to clinch City Deals?
Greater Manchester, for example, could see “£1.2 billion for improving infrastructure such as transport”, which according to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, “breaks new ground, giving Manchester the freedom to be truly revolutionary”.
Immediately, £1bn-plus would seem to dwarf Liverpool’s City Deal. But a look at the small print shows this will be achieved through being given the opportunity to ‘earn back’ tax raised locally.
Liverpool’s ‘City Deal Two’, announced last week, promised £800m of funding for transport infrastructure, hopefully creating 15,000 jobs.