Rotheram disappointed after rejection of City Region’s innovation bid

Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram described the government’s decision not to name the area as one of its new innovation hubs as a “major disappointment” and expressed skepticism about promises of a new decentralization towards the mayors of the metros.

The upgrade white paper, published earlier this week, revealed the government was opening talks with the West Midlands and Greater Manchester ACs on ‘deeper devolution deals’ and plans to make their regions accelerators of Silicon Valley-style innovation.

He also welcomed offers of more powers from the mayors of the existing combined authorities. But Mr Rotheram (Lab) told LGC that the failure of his region to be lined up for a share of £100m of investment in three new innovation hubs in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and the Glasgow City area was a “great disappointment”.

The Liverpool City region had submitted a bid centered on its innovative work in life sciences and advanced manufacturing. “We’re doing some really innovative things here around the spine [a new grade a office building in its innovation district]Daresbury [innovation centre] in Halton, and also Heath Park [sustainable living project], but we haven’t received anything. So it was a big disappointment for me. But there are other things we still have to fight for.

Mr Rotheram claimed the process for selecting areas for innovation hubs was “not transparent”. He said that in general Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are viewed more favorably for other delegated powers as they coincide with their local police forces and transport systems, unlike the Liverpool City area?? ??. “It’s more complicated for us,” he said.

The white paper pledged that the government would “take action to remove barriers preventing joint authority mayors from carrying out public safety functions” and for zones without coterminous boundaries “a resolution of all challenges will be sought, including exploring boundary alignment”.

However, Mr Rotheram was skeptical that would happen. “We have been talking to the Home Office for five years now. But the problem is we have Halton which has a bit of Cheshire and if Halton were to go through our Constabulary it would put the Cheshire Constabulary at risk as it falls below the [population] threshold. So there is an overview to consider.

Likewise, promises to devolve more of the powers program to municipal areas were met with cynicism by Mr Rotheram.

“I’ve been talking about it since day one – I spoke to Justine Greening when she was education secretary and asked her to work with the mayors on the apprenticeship levy when it was going to be introduced. Six and a half years later, the government continues to promise that it must do something. We have demonstrated that we get more for our money than central government with our adult education budget, so it makes sense to give us more skills.

However, Mr Rotherham praised Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi for being ‘much more engaging’ than his predecessor Gavin Williamson, who was ‘probably the worst secretary of state in living memory’.

“Zahawi, when he was rolling out the vaccine, met with us every month. He has a busy schedule but he never cancels. The policies are the problem. But I think he also gets decentralization.

Mr Rotheram said the M10 group of metro mayors had submitted their demands for decentralization to the central government.

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll is leading work on fiscal decentralization on their behalf, which is helping to shape their discussions with government.

“There are ideas that we have floated with the government – ​​with Birmingham having the Commonwealth Games, the West Midlands have considered a tax on tourism so that we can reinvest it in culture and that is something that we also interested. So there are things that we would like to have conversations about.”

He said the government’s reaction is “always ‘Covid slowed things down, it caused a backlog'”. “That’s true, but sooner or later you have to draw a line in the sand and move on from Covid,” he added.

Mr Rotheram said he supported the white paper’s aims to roll out decentralization deals in more areas, but found the document to be “very thin with not a lot of new ideas, and certainly a lot of redrafting of things. that we already knew”.

“The ramifications are that they will struggle up north because the upgrade has become almost a shield now, which is used for all sorts of things. They have raised aspirations in the regions left behind. But Knowsley gets nothing, yet Sajid Javid’s constituency [Bromsgrove] win up to £150 per person [from the government’s local growth funding pots]. There are huge disparities and people will start to see through the upgrade madness, which is nothing more than a catchphrase.

Mr Rotheram also expressed concerns about the nine regional directors to be upgraded in the white paper plans and the consequences for metro mayors who already have a direct line with the government in some cases. “If the posts are supposed to be the link between the machinery of government and what we’re doing on decentralization, then that can’t be a bad thing,” he said. “But if it’s that we have to go through these directors all the time instead of going straight to the secretaries of state or ministers, then that should never happen – it would be an extra level that wouldn’t do what it’s for. it was put in place. To do.”

He described Communities Secretary Michael Gove as a ‘charmer’ who ‘has gotten other departments into shape’. “So he could do it as he levels up – he’ll probably get something to hang his coat on. He’s very aware of his place in history, so he wants something that says ‘we did this’ And it could be the rollout of devolution to the rest of England.

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