Merseyside and West Cheshire Unlock Democracy group cautiously welcome the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Devolution Agreement between the Liverpool City Region, HM Treasury and the Department of Communities and Local Government.
We believe that the current arrangement should only be a precursor to a stronger devolution package provided that it moves towards more open and accountable strategic political leadership. It’s a promising start but with regard to scrutiny there was still a long way to go. We strongly regret that there has been no public consultation nor consideration of alternative governance arrangements.
Although it is understood that the devolution offer from the Government included an elected regional mayor, a recent membership meeting reiterated its view that such devolution and constitutional changes should be tested by a referendum and that part of any package should be an elected assembly with appropriate committee scrutiny as in London.
With regard to scrutiny, while acknowledging that two thirds of the cabinet have powers to amend or reject policies proposed by the elected LCR Mayor, these were considered not to be an adequate substitute for a directly elected assembly, as in London, elected by a system of proportional representation, preferably STV. In the meantime, we contend that the current provisions for accountability and scrutiny should be made more effective and proposals for consultation are awaited.
At present the LCR cabinet is scrutinised and held to account by the existing LCR Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny committee consisting of a large majority of the ruling party. We contendthat it is most unlikely that a majority of Councillors on the Scrutiny Committee from the same political party as the ruling party of the LCRCA Cabinet and Local Councils, can perform out robust and effective scrutiny of the LCRCA Cabinet and the future LCR Mayor.
Furthermore, it is not in the spirit of Government and Local Authority guidelines on Scrutiny; that is, that robust and effective scrutiny needs to at least involve the opposition to lead /chair the scrutiny committee.