Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government came close to writing off Merseyside. There was a serious conversation about leaving our city and its neighbours to ‘managed decline’ and the tender mercies of her economic shock therapy. As her Chancellor at the time, Geoffrey Howe, patronisingly put it: ‘We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill.’
We’ve come a long way since then.
Since 2010, Labour has had the privilege of running Liverpool and I became its leader, then in 2012 Mayor of the City. As all 6 councils in the Liverpool City Region became Labour controlled, we had to face a coalition Government determined to hit us all hard.
Liverpool council’s budget has been slashed by 58 per cent. Others in the city region face similar cuts. That’s £340 million taken out of our local economy each year – and over £1bn across all 6 local authorities. We also saw valuable national programmes like Housing Market Renewal and Building Schools for the Future, brought in by the last Labour government, scrapped.
I am proud of my record. Along with my colleagues, we refused to sit there like rabbits caught in the government’s headlights. We dug deep, innovated and drove through an ambitious programme of change. It is this willingness to overcome problems and get things done that has now paved the way for our ambitious devolution deal with the government.
Throughout my time as Mayor of Liverpool, I have consistently made the case that there’s a missing level at which decisions should be taken and I am delighted that the concept of city-regions and metro mayors has now become mainstream. Liverpool City Region has the right economic geography to succeed. 1.5million people, 40,000 businesses and over 625,000 employees mean we have the critical mass to build a sustainable next-generation economy.
There is plenty to do. We need to start with repairing an economy and social fabric that has been damaged by bad government decisions and ministerial neglect.
Here in the Liverpool City Region, we need to make the right investments in our economy so that we provide more, better paid private sector jobs in growth industries.
I have announced today that if selected for the Labour nomination for Metro Mayor I would create 10 Mayoral Development zones to make the right interventions in the right places, using the experience we have gained from our existing ones in Liverpool. This will help provide thousands of local jobs to local people.
And as we regenerate our economy, we must also regenerate our people. For young people we need to set up vocational schools to train our young people, and ensure they have no problems getting skilled work on Merseyside for the rest of their lives. And to guide this I am setting up a City Region Skills Commission through my current position as Chair of the Combined Authority.
We need upgraded infrastructure to capitalise on the boom in sea freight and passenger ships now docking in the Mersey, because the Mersey is quite simply the lifeblood of our city region. We need to create new rail stations across our region, and we also need to fight to ensure HS2 is extended to Liverpool, instead of ending the line at Crewe as is the current plan.
But we also need – if you’ll pardon the pun – HS3 on-track so that we can get serious about building a ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ connecting up the great cities and towns of the north of England, from Liverpool to Hull, opening up new export opportunities and trade routes.
Aside from the railways, we need to improve the bus services in our region. 80 percent of travel in the region takes place by bus. We need to refranchise services to make them cleaner and safer. Furthermore, we need to make our bus services more affordable, in particular, capping fares for children.
On housing, we need to see a better mix of properties across the city-region in order to make homes affordable for families, deal with shortages, and help our local councils grow their council tax base. This is why, for instance, I am pledging to build 10,000 ‘rent to buy’ homes in Liverpool.
All of these things are now in prospect. We have negotiated a devolution deal with the government that will allow us to shape our own destiny and address these serious, inter-connected issues.
And given the issues are serious the role of metro mayor has to be taken seriously too. Anyone who thinks it’s about cutting ribbons, or acting the fool like Boris, posing on zip-wires and appearing on game shows, is deluding themselves. There’s a lot of hard work to be done.
If we get it right, the prize for Labour is that we get to run the affairs of more of our country and stop the Conservatives doing what they did to Liverpool three decades ago and leaving us to managed decline.
This is the big prize that sits behind devolution and the creation of a metro mayor. It’s the opportunity to do things differently, free from the interference of Whitehall officials who don’t know the place and Tory ministers who simply don’t care about it.
It’s the challenge and honour of leading the renaissance of my home city and its partner towns and boroughs that remains my driving passion. And that’s why I’m standing to become its first City Region Mayor.
Joe Anderson is Mayor Liverpool and is standing to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of the Liverpool City-Region