Last May the city regions of Manchester and Liverpool underwent the biggest change in local government since the Metro counties were abolished over thirty years ago.
Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram were elected to give a voice to these conurbations and were given powers over strategic functions. Whatever criticisms there may be of what they have done so far, they have got on with it while other areas of the north have lacked the desire and vision to bring about similar devolution deals.
As they say at award ceremonies “let’s look at their work.”
As a former Cabinet Minister Andy Burnham has grasped the essential point of this elected mayor business. It is to be a visible voice for a big city and nine smaller communities to government.
We saw this in action in the most awful of circumstances soon after Burnham took office. In the early days he spoke for all in saying Greater Manchester was “grieving and strong”, he held the government to their pledge on special funds and crucially set up a review which revealed shortcomings in the organisation of the blue light response to the outrage.
He has been high profile on a range of issues attracting the advice that he should sometimes get off the television screen and get on with the day job.
There are indeed a couple of thorny issues to be addressed that could bring him into conflict with Manchester City Council. The arrival of Mr Burnham has not been met with unalloyed pleasure. The city always has a difficult relationship with bodies it sees as challenging its position like the old Greater Manchester Council and more recently the North West Development Agency.
The first of these issues is the homeless. Burnham has made this one of his highest priorities but there are complaints that his stance on the issue has made the city centre a magnet for desperate people threatening to overwhelm support services.
The other issue is housing policy. There is growing unrest amongst Labour councillors in the city about the amount of luxury flat development and the lack of provision of affordable homes. One of Mayor Burnham’s first acts was to send the conurbation’s spatial planning strategy back to the drawing board calling it “developer driven”. The revised spatial strategy could see Burnham posing as the champion of affordable homes, leaving Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese with some uncomfortable questions to answer.
GIVE ME TIME: ROTHERAM.
Steve Rotheram did not take kindly to a recent article in the Liverpool Echo suggesting he hadn’t done much in his first few months in charge.
He reasonably makes the general point that his post requires him to deal with strategic issues from Southport to Runcorn and changes don’t come quickly. The other thing that needs saying is that he started from scratch and had to deal with an elected mayor in the city of Liverpool who was not in a mood to make life easy for his old friend. Some of those tensions have eased now and Rotheram is using his great personal skills to good effect. Only last week I met up with him in Runcorn at an event championing green energy. Rotheram sees the opportunity for hi tech, well paid jobs for the future in that sector. He is building a business case for a Mersey barrage
He has also unveiled plans for a range of initiatives from cheaper Fast Tags on the Mersey tunnels, a brownfield register for housing and a target of building 25,000 affordable homes.
However, like Burnham, the Liverpool City Region mayor wants more powers but in polls people seem unconvinced that he should have them.
The task of both men in the next year is to start delivering tangible results and convince the government to grant the full devolution powers that elected mayors need to succeed.
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