The Liverpool City Region Mayor and Combined Authority – How can they be democratically accountable?

Unlock Democracy (Merseyside and West Cheshire), cautiously welcomed the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Devolution Agreement between the Liverpool City Region, HM Treasury and the Department of Communities and Local Government, which agreed on setting up the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA), consisting on six local authorities in Merseyside and Halton.

Throughout 2016 and 2017 we have been monitoring the LCR Devolution Agreement and further to this we have been attending LCRCA Cabinet, consisting of the leaders and councillors of the six local authorities together with Scrutiny Panel meetings by observing in the public gallery.

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, working with the Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram, will receive the following powers:

  • Control of a £30 million a year funding allocation over 30 years, to be invested in the Liverpool City Region Single Investment Fund, to unlock the economic potential of the River Mersey and Superport as well as maximise the opportunities from HS2.
  • Responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision, the outcomes of which will be taken forward in line with the principles of the devolved arrangements, and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19.
  • Joint responsibility with the government to co-design employment support for the harder-to-help claimants.
  • Building on the success of International Festival for Business (IFB), Liverpool City Region and the government, will continue engagement to establish IFB Liverpool as a vital feature of the international business calendar in 2018 and 2020.

At present the LCR cabinet is scrutinised and held to account by the LCR Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny committee, which currently consists of a large majority of the ruling party. We contend that it is most unlikely that a majority of Councillors on the Scrutiny Committee from the same political party as the ruling party of the LCR Mayor, LCRCA Cabinet and Local Councils, can perform robust and effective scrutiny of the LCRCA Cabinet and the LCR Mayor.

We understand from legislation and Statutory Instruments that the current arrangement is not in the spirit of Government and Local Authority guidelines on Scrutiny. We await to see the composition of the next Scrutiny Panel which should provide robust and effective scrutiny and needs to at least involve the opposition to lead /chair the scrutiny committee.

The new, directly elected Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram will act as Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and will exercise the following powers and functions devolved from central government:

  • Responsibility for a devolved and consolidated local transport budget, with a multiyear settlement to be agreed at the Spending Review.
  • Responsibility for franchised bus services, which will support the Combined Authority’s delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across the Combined Authority.
  • Powers over strategic planning, including the responsibility to create a Single Statutory City Region Framework, a Mayoral Development Corporation and to develop with government a Land Commission and a Joint Assets Board for economic assets.
  • The Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram will be required to consult Combined Authority Members on his strategies and spending plans, which the Combined Authority may reject if two-thirds of the constituent council members agree to do so.

An additional point 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 Steve Rotheram, these safeguards we consider 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.

The LCR Mayor Steve Rotheram will be scrutinised and held to account by the existing LCR Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny committee, which will be expanded from the present 14 members to 20 members, i.e. 3 from each of the six local authorities and two from the opposition parties.

The LCR Mayor Steve Rotheram and cabinet have substantial powers, functions and responsibilities, and we contend that these functions require strong and effective scrutiny and accountability. Our UD group co-ordinating committee will be working hard to make sure that the expanded LCR Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny committee will have an effective number of councillors members from the opposition parties and is chaired by a councillor member from an opposition party. As we have held above, this is certainly not the case on the existing LCR Combined Authority Overview and Scrutiny Panel which consists of 14 members, with 11 from the ruling party and 3 from the opposition parties and is chaired by a member of the ruling party.