Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mad, bad and dangerous for Southport

In light of recent comments I thought I would republish two postings from last year on the idea of a Merseyside Mayor. My colleague on leader of the Lib Dems on Sefton Council issued a statement at the time which I will repost shortly

The Daily Post has carries a story about suggestion that there should be an elected Mayor for Merseyside- a sort of Scouse Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson. The journalist whose by line appears with the story is David Bartlett who has proved himself to be a serious political writer and therefore the piece cannot be dismissed as merely a 'silly season story' despite the rather flimsy evidence quoted.

Let us be clear the suggestion that Liverpool should have a Mayor is nothing to do with me. It is properly a matter for the electors of the City. For what it is worth I think my colleague Richard Kemp has got it about right in this article in which he argues that the idea is just 'plain wrong'..

Where I do have an interest is if the silly notion floated by Lord Andrew Adonis that there should be a Liverpool Regional Mayor is taken seriously.

I am not comfortable with vesting so much power in one persons hands-mentioning no names but we have ample evidence that Lord Acton's assertion that ' All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Acton was writing in the time of Gladstone. We do not have people of the same moral stature seeking to head up Merseyside institution today

My second objection is that it is thoroughly bad for Southport-and I fancy for large chunks of the Wirral, St Helens, Newton le Willows.... For a generation or two-well since the early 1970's -we have been dragooned into a government structure which has militated against our best interests. 

A glance at the map clearly shows why this is not in Southport's best interests. 90% of our land boundary is NOT with Merseyside. Ever since the last (disastrous) local government reorganisation back in the early 70's we have been cut off from most of our natural hinterland. The communications through the narrow corridor to the south -both road and rail-have been maintained and upgraded, but to the north and east they are simply not fit for purpose. The towns and villages that surround us are in a different county and even though people in Ormskirk, Tarleton, Banks, Burcough and the like use Southport for commercial and public services there has been significant underinvestment in the infrastructure. We are like a person unable to use an arm and a leg. Because of this bureaucratic boundary our economic development  has been lopsided. Our famous shops, restaurants, seaside facilities and our commercial and professional enterprises are not easily accessed by the large population on our doorstep. It is not that those folk don't want visit us, it is just made very difficult for them because of the paucity of the road and rail system. A significant part of our health services are situated in Lancashire. The City of Preston is as close geographically to many Sandgrounders as Liverpool.  The last thing we need is to entrench this disadvantage by having a City Region run from Liverpool .

The last time the Boundary Commission looked at this matters something around 20 000 people from the town contacted them urging them to return the town to self government. Since that time Unitary authorities have been set up whose population are very similar in size to Southport. Imagine the situation if Liverpool voted for a Regional Mayor but 70%-80% of Southport voted against. 

Let's hope that nobody take Adonis seriously. It would be unacceptable if our views were ignored. Before devolution Scotland was ruled from London irrespective of the wishes of their electorate. We do not want to be in that position. If Adonis wants to visit I'd happily show him round. Let us be clear there are some 'little Southporters' who are fuelled by nostalgia and a mis-remembered past. I have absolutely no objection to the people of Liverpool but I recognise that the economic sustainability and prosperity of our town is best served by reconnecting it with its natural economic hinterland not by straight jacketing  us into arrangements which undermines that process. Just take a train out east from Southport-well don't if you are in  hurry. Try to drive the few miles to Ormskirk. We need an arrangement that fosters these economic ties. A generation ago they were frequent visitors to our town. That is less true year by year and they have not been replaced by visitors from Bidston 

A cold shiver will run down Sandgrounder's backs when the hear Bootle Labour Leader Cllr Peter Dowd say he was not opposed to the principle of a mayor for Merseyside or the wider Liverpool region, but that it had to come with additional powers and responsibilities. He said: “This has to be about decentralisation of power, responsibility and funds and unless it is done properly it is a waste of time.”

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