Merseyside Combined Authority


Liverpool town hall Liverpool Town Hall

The Merseyside Combined Authority.

The genesis for the Merseyside Combined Authority came from the review “ No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth” an independent report produced by Michael Heseltine for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Amongst the reports 89 recommendations was a core assertion that Britain would be better served by enabling regional decision-making on infrastructure rather than the existing centralised Whitehall decision-making.

It also proposed stronger influence for local Chambers of Commerce in regional economic planning.

In other words the regions themselves were likely to understand best where funds should be deployed rather than central planners in London and that such an approach would be more likely to spread wealth and economic growth across the country rather than directing growth to the South East.

In essence  money would be coming directly to the regions. However, in order to obtain that money, a process of governance was required and this has created the drive for regional authorities. Manchester is already a regional authority and Merseyside and West Yorkshire are being formed.

Other regions in the UK are expected to follow.

Potentially there is a £2 billion pot or what is termed GVA (Gross Value Added) for the Merseyside region for economic infrastructure and transport which might add £8 billion to the local Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The Merseyside Combined Authority is to be a separate legal entity made up of representatives (Leaders) of Liverpool, Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral Councils. The body would work closely with MerseyTravel and the local LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership). The LEP is the successor to what was the North West Development Agency (NWDA)  which was closed in March 2012.

Some Legal Jargon

The proposed combined authority has issued two draft documents:

  1. A draft scheme.
  2. A governance review.

Both these documents are written in technical legal speak but the gist is as follows:

From the draft scheme-

Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act, 2009 (the 2009 Act) enables the creation of Economic Prosperity Boards or Combined Authorities. These are sub-national structures that have separate legal powers to the Local Authorities who come together to create them. These bodies are available to support the effective delivery of economic development and regeneration, and in the case of combined authorities, transport.

Essentially this means that the combined authorities has much wider legal powers than a local authority and are much more flexible, not dissimilar to an individual person. Local authorities are very restricted in their legal powers and this constitution removes that restriction. However we should remember that local authorities are restricted for good reasons!

The combined authority will not be “a super council”- in other words it will not be an amalgam of the 6 existing authorities. Strategic decision making will be formally co-ordinated across the 6 authorities in essence formalising what had already gone on previously. It is not one council for Merseyside. However we could see councils sharing back office functions in shared service arrangements. This has recently happened with Wirral Council sharing with Chester.

We could, in the future, also see joint policy making which would increase harmonisation but the identity and power of individual councils may in time be diluted. We wait and see.

_DSC0962Something to reflect on.   Is the Merseyside authority an economic opportunity?  or a major threat to local democracy?

The Purpose of the Combined Authority

In the words of the draft scheme:

The Combined Authority would bring together key strategic decision-making powers into a single body, exercising appropriate strategic transport and economic development functions to maximise the impact of what we do. It would provide a visible, stable and statutory body which could act as the accountable body for the City Region to support the functions it is discharging and could attract devolved powers and resources from Government to facilitate local economic growth. This model of governance would not have any additional resource implications for constituent councils and its operation would be expected to be at least cost neutral.

The following functions (themes) are to be driven by

Functions Executive
Theme – Economic Development Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)
Theme – Transport Transport for Liverpool City Region Committee
Theme – Housing and land based assets Liverpool City Region Strategic Housing and Planning
Theme – Employment and skills Liverpool City Region Employment and Skills Board

In essence a separate legal entity with very wide and flexible powers to develop the Merseyside region and to formulate an integrated transport, housing and employment strategy for the region.

The executive for these boards will be the Liverpool City Region cabinet consisting of the council leaders and/or mayor of each of the six authorities.

But there is another reason perhaps that is not mentioned in the official draft as a reason but is referred to extensively in the documents and that is the Atlantic Gateway.

As you will see in the Atlantic Gateway article on this website this development is fundamental to the North West and Merseyside in particular. The Combined Authority and its remit in transport links would be an obvious point to facilitate the strategic planning of this project. It would also act as one voice to co-ordinate relationships with Peel Holdings. The Atlantic Gateway is specifically mentioned at several points in the draft scheme for the combined authority, see example below.

“Supporting Atlantic Gateway development including Wirral and Liverpool Waters and the Daresbury Enterprise Zone, incorporating Sci-Tech Daresbury”

 Local Reaction

 Within the OLV region the Combined Authority is appropriate to the existing St Helens MBC only so it will be particularly relevant to people in Newton Le Willows and Haydock.  Judging from the reaction on social media and the local free papers its seems that there is some suspicion over this initiative and that it will very much dilute local democracy with more and more decisions being taken within a faceless committee which has a Liverpool City centric bias. There is also some suspicion that the consultation in St Helens was very light touch and rushed through without an adequate public debate. This is not necessarily the OLV view but apparent local comment.

Local Impact

 The combined authority is likely to be a facilitator for economic regeneration and in particular facilitation for the delivery of the various components of the Atlantic Gateway. In the general sense this will impact the OLV area- certainly Port Salford and Warrington.

There has been talk of a transport hub in Newton Le Willows for the bus and train interchange.  As the Lancashire Triangle electrification scheme and the Northern Hub move forward Newton Le Willows will expand its range of regional and national destinations. The transport hub at Newton has also been talked about with a new train station at Carr Mill and the connectivity of St Helens Central with St Helens Junction. We wait and see whether these developments will proceed within the strategy of the Transport for Liverpool City Region committee.

The other factor for the Newton Le Willows hub was that it was to be included as part of the Astral Proposal for Parkside employees. Much of this cost was to be met by the private developer. If this were now to be funded publicly this might further act as an enabler for any future scheme on Parkside.  However any scheme at Parkside, along the lines of the huge Astral Warehouse Park, would unlikely to be in conflict with the Atlantic Gateway either planning, strategically or commercially. The Combined Authority would most like reinforce this aspect.

In the event of no repeat of the Astral scheme then we may see an alternative proposal of a new design, scale and nature. We in OLV certainly hope so.

Our Local Voice Says

It is hard not to see the logic of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority particularly the formalisation of collaboration of local authorities and the access to further regional funding.

There are major concerns over local democracy and accountability if all important decision- making is taken behind closed doors by a committee. There is an inherent lack of transparency at local level and many people may feel a lack of empowerment in the future democratic process if all decisions of importance are taken elsewhere.

These are great concerns!

We would also like to see greater emphasis in the Combined Authority on the quality of life in the future Merseyside region. We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country with internationally important wildlife sites the impact of which spreads throughout the region. We face continued threats to our rapidly disappearing green belt and infrastructure. Economic development and transport links are critical but they are not the complete picture.

People have a right to expect economic growth and green infrastructure and a safe, pleasant and clean environment- not choose one or the other!

We do not see this message in the publications of the Combined Authority and we would like to see greater emphasis on this aspect.