The actual elections for the Mayors of the Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and possibly Leeds, won’t be held until next year. However in effect the people who are likely to occupy these posts will be settled this summer. Labour has an iron grip on our big northern cities and unless a spectacular independent candidate comes forward, whoever Labour members choose, will win.

The party’s choices will be made very soon. Nominations close on June 10th and the results will be announced on August 4th. Whoever thought it was a good idea to run these selections when the European Union Referendum was on needs their head examining. Labour Party members should be concentrating on getting out the Remain vote amongst its supporters. Without them the referendum could be lost. I guess it reflects leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for the Remain campaign.

However the battle for the Labour nomination has been truly joined. The Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham declared this week for the Greater Manchester job. Meanwhile in the Liverpool City Region, 2 MPs Steve Rotheram and Luciana Berger are set to throw down the gauntlet to Big Joe Anderson. There are also suggestions that Barry Grunwald, the leader of St Helens, might try and rally Labour members who want a candidate from outside Liverpool.

Joe Anderson has just started his second term as elected mayor of the city of Liverpool. He got a glowing report on his first period in office from the boss of the Heseltine Institute, Professor Michael Parkinson. However not everyone shares the academic’s views. Critics believe Joe brings a “my way or the highway” approach to the office. They worry about his ability to reach out to the people of Wirral, Southport and St Helens. They remember his petulance when Phil Davies, the leader of Wirral, was originally chosen as chair of the Liverpool City Region instead of him.

There has been a sense of inevitability about Anderson gliding from one mayoralty to the other and this is what Rotheram, Berger or Grunwald will have to combat.

Grunwald is quite a character, inheriting the feisty tradition of his predecessor Marie Rimmer. If he stands he will need to work hard to get name recognition across the city region, but he may be able to play on the fear that a Liverpool politician won’t represent the interests of the other councils.

Joe Anderson is now likely to have to battle with two MPs in the city. Steve Rotheram is the amiable MP for Walton and was a popular traditional mayor of the city some years ago. He has family and work connections with Knowsley, St Helens and Halton and is close to Andy Burnham. They would form a powerful alliance for a North West version of the Northern Powerhouse. Efforts may be made to depict him as a Corbynista. He is the leader’s Parliamentary Private Secretary but Rotheram nominated Burnham for leader and will want to portray himself as a good Labour man first and foremost.

Merseyside politics is very male and a female elected mayor would send out the sort of positive messages that Sadiq Khan’s election in London has done. Wirral South’s Alison McGovern was thinking of standing but is heavily identified with the Blairite Progress movement and is unlikely to run. So what about Luciana Berger? She is bright and personable but will have to deal with the, no doubt unfair, feeling that she is a posh outsider from London.


Sir Richard Leese recently expressed his disappointment at Tony Lloyd’s tenure as interim mayor of Greater Manchester. It is a blow for Lloyd as he seeks the post permanently. Leese is now believed to be backing Andy Burnham.

The Shadow Home Secretary’s decision to enter the contest is significant. He has Big Beast status in this municipal contest but it has caused dismay among some Labour supporters for what it says about Labour’s chances of winning the 2020 General Election. Burnham has decided that the only way he can be effective is to run Greater Manchester with no chance of becoming Home Secretary. He represents Leigh and so is not from the Manchester City elite. But will he be any match for the Bernstein/Leese partnership, the powerful Chief Executive/ Leader pairing that has dominated for 20 years?

The other candidate, Ivan Lewis, the Bury South MP, has made it clear that he thinks the devolution agenda has been too Manchester focused and concentrated on economic priorities at the expense of social ones.

It all means a high summer of high drama for Labour Party members in our big conurbations.





As the Chancellor reels from his drubbing at the hands of the House of Lords over tax credits, he can fall back for solace on his pet project the Northern Powerhouse. Or can he? A poll out this weekend shows only one in four people in the North believe it will deliver. This is hardly surprising as they have been shut out of a project that has been cooked up behind the closed doors of Whitehall and the Town Halls.

I have been to Sheffield and Liverpool this week finding out just where we are with the devolution deals. The most interesting meeting was was Downtown’s Devo Scouse event. The networking organisation has now brought together twelve business organisations who insist on having their say in shaping the devolution deal for the Liverpool City Region.

The magnificent dozen came together after seeing the devolution proposition Merseyside’s politicians had sent to the government. It amounted to a fifty item shopping list of demands with little evidence to back it up and a paragraph on elected mayors almost designed to antagonise a government determined to support the idea.

They are putting their ideas to the councillors on the Combined Authority this weekend but they better be quick. Insiders tell me a government response may come on Nov 11th, even ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review later next month. They have on board the doyen of devolution academics Professor Michael Parkinson (a possible independent mayoral candidate?) who told the Devo Scouse meeting that the City Region needed to produce evidence based solutions to the government’s problems over things like low skills, not the begging bowl. There needed to be more trust between the six districts that did form a coherent economic whole. There was no point having hang ups about Manchester which is currently the go to city for devolution. They had been at this business for 20 years not 20 months. Parkinson also observed that the politicians in Greater Manchester had their rows in private not on the front page of the echo.

Martin McTague of the Federation of Small Business praised the coming together of twelve business organisations and said Liverpool should pay attention to the details of devo deals done in Sheffield and the North East. They had been narrowly focused. One of the main issues that has caused disunity on Merseyside is the question of an elected city region mayor. The FSB spokesman said they should not get hung up about it because the ones agreed so far would only be chairs of the board of the Combined Authorities not an all powerful Boris type mayor.

The other devolution event I went to was organised by IPPR North in Sheffield. Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott continued his campaign for a region rather than a city based approach to the Northern Powerhouse. I agree with him but I’m afraid that ship has sailed for the moment. Dan Jarvis, a Barnsley MP tipped as a possible future Labour leader acknowledged that Labour had been left trailing by George Osborne over the Northern Powerhouse. Christine Gaskell, Chair of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP reminded people of the power of her economy as a contributor to the Northern Powerhouse, whilst the only Tory speaker at the conference felt his Ribble Valley area was more an outhouse than a powerhouse.


The selection of a new Labour candidate for Oldham West and Royton will take place on Bonfire Night. Those that choose politics over pyrotechnics may see the leader of Oldham Council Jim McMahon chosen as the standard bearer.

Jon Lansman,a London based veteran of the Labour left in the 1980s, has ruled himself out. There are a couple of local councillors from the Asian community who fancy their chances in a seat with a large South Asian population and I’ve heard that Phil Woolas the able MP for Oldham East, who was disqualified from office by an election court in 2011 has been sizing up his chances.

Voting is expected by the end of November so UKIP will need to get their skates on and may choose the impressive John Bickley who nearly won Heywood last year.




This week the deadline passed for northern councils to submit their bids for devolved power. Will this herald the real start for a coherent, democratically run, Northern Powerhouse or a mishmash of devolved functions confusing to business and voters alike?

Government policy faces two ways on this issue. On the one hand they want requests for devolution to come from our city and county regions, allowing for a varied pattern to suit the area concerned. This is in the belief that one size doesn’t fit all. On the other hand ministers are very firm in their belief that elected mayors are a condition for real “Manchester” style devolution.

As deadline day approached there were frantic moves across the North to get bids in. In some areas it mirrored football’s transfer deadline day. But before surveying the complicated picture from Merseyside to Leeds, let’s remind ourselves what this is all about and whether it matters to business.

Conservatives in the previous Coalition government were determined to dismantle the structure of regional power put in place by Labour. They believed that city regions provided the real engines for growth working alongside business driven Local Enterprise Partnerships. Many Labour city leaders agreed with them, particularly Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester Council. He formed a powerful alliance with the Chancellor George Osborne in launching the concept of the Northern Powerhouse to link major cities like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool together.

Greater Manchester struck a deal before the election to get widespread economic, housing and health powers. In return they reluctantly accepted an elected mayor. Former MP Tony Lloyd is filling that role on an interim basis.

Other cities in the North were much more reluctant to accept an elected mayor and perhaps hung back awaiting the outcome of the General Election. Now with a fully Conservative administration and a new Local Government Secretary, the choice has been simplified It’s Greg Clarke’s way or the highway.

The sort of powers that might be devolved are important for business. The skills gap, poor transport links, planning, and access to finance are some of the issues firms are concerned about and being able to influence policy locally rather than traipsing down to Whitehall must be good.

So as the deadline passes, what is the picture in the North? In Greater Manchester the deal is done whilst on Merseyside things remain complex. The bid, which is also a response to the general Spending Review, has been described as “a work in progress” by officials. Veteran Liverpool Lib Dem councillor Richard Kemp prefers “last minute” which he regards as the wrong approach when control of £4.5bn of expenditure is involved. The problem on Merseyside has been the difficult relationship between the leader of the City Region, Cllr Phil Davies of Wirral and the elected mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. The latter believes in an elected mayor for the sub region whereas other councils in the sub region see it as a recipe for a Liverpool takeover.

To the south Warrington and Cheshire Local Enterprise Partnership is putting in its own bid for devolved powers, not wishing to be overshadowed by the city based Northern Powerhouse.

Similar sentiments prevailed in Lancashire last week at a Downtown sponsored event. The county’s leader Jennifer Mein pointed out they had the third largest economy in the North. Business wants a united bid for power but once again there are local sensitivities as Lancashire has to deal with Blackburn and Blackpool unitary authorities as well as 12 district councils.

In Yorkshire there has been a lively debate around three proposals. Some argue that the Yorkshire brand is known around the world and so the devolution deal should be county wide. Geoff Boycott for elected mayor anyone? Leeds remains convinced that a city region based solution is best involving some of the surrounding towns. Meanwhile a third group would like to contain Leeds and go for a North and East Yorkshire sub region.

This process across the North has lacked real input from the people and it will be down to Communities Secretary Greg Clarke to hand down decisions from the centre once again.

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Forty years ago this week local government boundaries across the North were ripped up in a major reform of how we are governed locally. It was meant to herald a more efficient system of administration with functions being carried out at an appropriate level reflecting communities that people could identify with.


In fact the last forty years has seen continued tinkering with the system, the scrapping and then the reinventing of city regions and, in some areas, a refusal of people to come to terms with the 1974 settlement. There is still much to do.


In 1974 local government across the north consisted of a patchwork of county boroughs covering the main population centres with a series of small urban and rural councils around them with boundaries that did not reflect the urban expansion since the Second World War.


In 1969 very wise man called Lord Redcliffe-Maud proposed that most people should have one tier of local government. His idea was rejected but it remains the obvious solution to this day. Instead the Heath government decided to create metropolitan councils for West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. They dealt with transport, police, fire and structural planning whilst metropolitan districts handled schools, housing, social services and collected the rates.


The old shire counties had chunks taken out of them. Yorkshire lost Saddleworth to Oldham and Todmorden to Lancashire. The Saddleworth White Rose Society still campaigns for the old historic boundary. Cheshire lost Wirral to Merseyside. Lancashire,who’s southern border had been the Mersey, lost communities from Stretford and Whiston and Ashton and Droylesden to the mets and in the North the Furness area to Cumbria. Perhaps most contentious was the incorporation of Southport into Merseyside. A Southport Party campaigning to return the resort to Lancashire has enjoyed poll success in Sefton Council elections.




Cities like Manchester were never happy with an upper tier authority over them and shed few tears when the metropolitan counties became collateral damage in a war between Margaret Thatcher and Ken Livingstone, leader of the Greater London Council in the mid 1980s.


There was turbulence in the shire counties too. In Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn became all purpose authorities in 1998. It was typical of the piecemeal nature of local government reform in recent decades. Why wasn’t Preston given unitary status? Why have 12 district councils in Lancashire and yet in 2009 reduce the number of councils in Cheshire to two?


There was a moment of hope that a real overall coherent vision would be given to all this when John Prescott proposed regional assemblies to democratise the work of the Regional Development Agencies. It would have required unitary local government throughout the North, reducing the number of politicians not increasing them as critics of Prescott mislead people into believing.


Prescott was replaced by the current Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles who vowed to oppose any more reorganisation. In fact under the current government we have seem the rise of Combined Authorities in Greater Manchester and soon in Merseyside and West Yorkshire. They are reinventions of the metropolitan councils of 1974 recognising that there is a need for strategic thinking in the mets.


In Greater Manchester the antagonisms of 1974-86 have been avoided. The jury is still out elsewhere particularly in the Liverpool City Region.


A plethora of initiatives have been launched by this government. Local Enterprise Partnerships, elected mayors, City Deals etc. It is a confusing mess which people don’t understand and have little democratic control over.


Forty years on from the reform of 1974 we await the government with the guts to override petty local politics and introduce root and branch reform of our constitution from the House of Lords to parish council.