At this week’s Spotlight-New Statesman conference on the Northern Powerhouse, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, launched a strident critique of Westminster’s broken politics.
“Westminster’s model of governance has viewed policymaking through the prism of what’s in the best interests of London and the South East. And a consequence of that is that the 16 million people in the North have been forced to accept poorer outcomes. This is true in health, where being born in the North can take a decade off your life expectancy, education, where Ofsted figures show that 135,000 more secondary school children are being taught in under-performing schools, and transport, where London gets £419 more per head than we do in the North,” he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by his Liverpool colleague, Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool City when he addressed the conference earlier in the day. “A lot of people ask me if the Northern Powerhouse has been paused, or put on the back burner. It absolutely has,” he said. Asked for his opinion of the Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, Anderson retorted that “we may as well have Mary Berry, because government isn’t listening.” Anderson claimed that the Civil Service was “like an episode of Yes, Minister… Those Whitehall mandarins with their arms around the budgets, not wanting to devolve powers, it still exists. It still hasn’t changed.”
Rotheram linked the alienation from Westminster and Whitehall politics, as well as the continued effects of austerity, to the vote for Brexit in 2016. “When you leave people and places without hope, when you hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, when you give tax cuts to millionaires whilst others are forced to use food banks and sleep rough in the 5th richest economy on the planet, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you pose the wrong question at the wrong time on the wrong issues, many of those communities respond with what I think is the wrong answer. What the EU referendum result exposed was a deep feeling of alienation from the political class.”
Referring to his vision for greater transport connectivity and Crossrail for the North, Rotheram reiterated his desire to “shrink the North West, and, hopefully the whole North.” Reduced journey times and increased capacity would have huge implications for old M62 rivalries: “You could get between Liverpool and Manchester in 23 minutes. So that means people could work in Manchester, and then decide to live somewhere with culture,” he joked.
Emphasising his support for the Mersey tidal barrage project, the mayor also announced the creation of a £10 million fund to invest in renewable energy projects and support the City Region’s shift towards a low-carbon economy.