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, 2017 and 2018 we have been monitoring the LCR Devolution Agreement and further to this activity 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, has received 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.

Formally the LCR cabinet is expected to be 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 (Labour 16 Conservative 2 and Liberal Democrats 2). We contend that it is most unlikely that a large 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 former initial arrangement was not in the spirit of Government and Local Authority guidelines on Scrutiny as the Chair initially was from the ruling party, though eventually in 2017/18 the chair was taken by a Liberal Democrat. As the current meeting was inquorate at its recent meeting, we await to see the formal composition of the next Scrutiny Panel, which we trust will provide robust and effective scrutiny, and will again involve the opposition to lead /chair the scrutiny committee.

The directly elected Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram acts as Chair of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and exercises 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.