Merseyside row overshadows Combined Authority launch

Word reaches us of a serious family squabble on Merseyside.

This issue of contention is over who should chair Merseyside’s new Combined Authority -designed to pool responsibility among local councils over transport, economic development and regeneration and receive new powers from Whitehall.

Liverpool is clear it should be Mayor Joe Anderson. Most of the other councils disagree, citing the example of Greater Manchester, where Wigan’s council leader rather than Manchester’s chairs the body, avoiding the impression of Mancunian dominance.

Matters came to a head on Monday at a meeting of the six Merseyside leaders representing Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley, Wirral, Halton and St Helens. With rumours that Anderson and Sefton’s leader, Peter Dowd, were boycotting the meeting in protest at the job not going to Anderson, a vote was taken by the remaining leaders and Wirral Council Leader Phil Davies was duly appointed.

Anderson and Dowd then turned up after the vote had been taken. The mood, say insiders, was sub-Arctic.

There are two structural problems being played out here. First, there has long been a debate about what exactly constitutes ‘Merseyside’. Scousers argue that it’s really nothing more than Liverpool plus satellite areas and therefore it makes sense to play their strongest card.

But unlike Greater Manchester, which has pioneered the Combined Authority model, Merseyside is much more fractious. St. Helens, for instance, was traditionally a Lancashire town and doesn’t like being appended to ‘Greater Liverpool’. While Halton – Widnes and Runcorn – is actually in Cheshire. There is a sense that Liverpool is swallowing up other areas just to give itself scale – and doing so in a cack-handed way.

Then there’s the problem of political asymmetry. This is the polite way of saying Liverpool’s first elected mayor, Joe Anderson, is pushing for his own way by dint of his direct mandate. Anderson has been one of the few success stories of the failed bid to create directly-elected big city mayors.

A big, bruising personality, his opponents frequently accuse him of riding roughshod. In this case, the other authorities say he is trying to bounce them and welching on an understanding that he would not try to head the new body.

Never one to mince his words, Anderson wrote to his group after the meeting:

“This is such a missed opportunity instead of thinking and behaving like leaders of a big global city the city region leaders have engaged in a dysfunctional debate akin to toy town level politics and ambitions.”

He is said to be considering pulling Liverpool out of the Combined Authority after the “clandestine” way in which the matter was dealt with.

But his is not the only big beast in Merseyside Labour politics. St. Helens Council Leader, Barrie Grunewald, could not have been clearer where the blame for this shambes lies. In a memo to his group, Grunewald gave Anderson both barrels:

“Be in no doubt whatsoever, if Merseyside’s reputation is further damaged and money is withheld from us to progress our growth plan the blame can only lie at one person’s door – Mayor Anderson.

This shows Merseyside off in the worst possible light and again we appear dysfunctional all because one person will not accept the democracy of partnership and equal footing.”

Grunewald then reloaded and blasted him again:

“I am afraid what this boils down to is one man and his ego and his belief that above everything else he has the God-given right to chair things and take this position, despite the fact that in every other combined authority the core city does not chair it.”

While Mayor Joe frequently wields his new broom as a big stick, it seems that on this occasion he may have met his match.

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4 Responses to “Merseyside row overshadows Combined Authority launch”

  1. Tafia says:

    Wirral – which includes the towns of Birkenhead, Ellesmere Port, Heswall, Neston, Port Sunlight, Bromborough, Wallasey ad others) is historically Cheshire as well and they don’t like being lumped in with Liverpool ansd have always resented being removed from Cheshire. (There is great snobbery in the fact they have a CH Chester postcode as opposed to an L Liverpool one)

  2. Nick says:

    Merseyside dysfunctional ha what a surprise NOT, those who know Mayor Anderson up close will know that he is nothing short of an old style slam the table, shout, intimidate and evengtually get his own way…

    Well it would appear that has not worked – well done to those other leaders for standing their ground…

    Joe Anderson has to swallow his pride and take one for the team and make this work, there is no other game in town

  3. bob says:

    Southport was part of Lancashire at one time and still resent being lumped into Merseyside.

    Anderson is just spitting his dummy and throwing his toys out of his pram. he was elected by a very small number after overriding the idea of a referendum to see if the City of Liverpool should even have a mayor let alone elect one. he was somewhat economical with the truth over the matter.

    The other participants at the meeting were never going to elect Anderson in a million years, in fact Anderson and Dowd arrived late to the meeting. Anderson is now saying he is trying to repudiate the Liverpool City Region and saying he will try to take legal action leave the ‘council’, unlucky though, it’s legally binding.

    Very murky politics as usual in Liverpool and as usual come May the sheep in Liverpool will still vote Labour, even the Lib-Dems are just as bad. Remember how he and his cabal tried to stitch up Jake Morrison.

  4. Ex abour says:

    Around 12 months ago I was asked by a politician what would help certain areas of the country – my response was “a tactical nuclear strike”. It was of course a flippant response but it was based on the fact that certain areas have had and continue to have a certain reputation and the only way to chnage that is to start again.

    Liverpool is such a place. Long associated with extreme socialist politics (think Derek Hatton etc) and union dominance and disruption. In fact come to think of it why is it when I see some whinging union leader on the news he’s invariably a Scouser ? Anyway back to the subject, I dont know Anderson or any of the other participants but Liverpool politico’s and their behaviour do feature regularly in Private Eye usually in the “Rotten Borough” or “Nooks and Corners” section as they aim to destroy parts of the city for their pet regeneration projects and where perfectly good houses which could be restored are left to go to rack and runin.

    Come to think of it that nuclear idea doesn’t seem so bad now.

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