Words: Frank McKenna, Downtown in Business
At the launch of the Northern Powerhouse back in 2014 the government’s senior architect of the plan, chancellor George Osborne, had a narrative that was littered with references to Manchester and Leeds. There was little evidence that Liverpool, once the second city of the Great British empire, was to play a role in the initial devolution deals that were being planned and drawn up in the corridors of Whitehall.
Five years on, and whilst Leeds is still ‘negotiating’ with its Yorkshire neighbours and the government about a devolution deal that would cover the whole white rose county, Liverpool has surprised many in getting its act together, persuading six previously disengaged local authorities to form a combined authority, producing a devolution plan and agreeing to establish the post of elected mayor for the city region.
Liverpool’s elected mayor Joe Anderson was the key driver towards the city’s ‘leapfrogging’ of other northern cities, his pragmatic approach winning him friends in Westminster, his experience in Merseyside politics enabling him to navigate some challenging discussions with his colleagues in the Mersey boroughs.
That he managed to do so with relatively little aggro, left many to believe that Anderson would be anointed to the newly created position of metro mayor. However, his party and the MP for Walton had other ideas.
Steve Rotheram saw the opportunity to work in partnership with his closest political ally in the House of Commons, Andy Burnham, at a regional level as too good a chance to pass on. Having won the Labour nomination it was inevitable that he would win the subsequent election in a constituency that has just one Conservative MP.
It is hardly a secret, or in truth a surprise, that the relationship between two former comrades Anderson and Rotheram, was not as warm as it had been previously in the immediate aftermath of the metro mayor election.
However, in recent months, both men appear to have settled their differences and are getting on with their respective jobs. Mayor Joe has almost £14 billion of regeneration projects to deliver. Steve has appointed an impressive group of officers in his mayoral office that is busy developing evidence-based strategies to win private sector investment and government backing in the future.
If there has been a more optimistic time in the city region, I can’t remember it.
However, the rumblings of a Momentum takeover that may result in a Corbynista group take over Wirral Council in May and see a challenge to Anderson in Liverpool next year is making some in the private sector nervous.
Has Liverpool turned the corner onto powerhouse progress – or will its old- style politics return to see it head into a cul-de-sac? Time will tell, but at the moment at least, the city’s glass is defiantly half-full.