It is six months since I was elected as the first Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, and it has been a steep but exhilarating learning curve. There was no ready-made template for the role of metro mayor and although our devolution deal provided a set of agreed responsibilities and resources, it didn’t establish an overarching vision and blueprint for how the City Region was going to redefine its place in the world.
If there was one simple challenge facing us, it was the need to accelerate economic growth and effectively exploit a set of outstanding but under-performing natural, human and economic assets.
My focus, therefore, has been on addressing those areas where we need to raise our game or grasp opportunities that have simply not been possible without a City Region perspective and capacity.
If docks, trains and canals made us the gateway to the first Industrial Revolution, then world-class digital connectivity and plentiful, predictable renewable energy will underpin our position at the heart of the Fourth.
Home to Europe’s biggest off-shore wind farm, I have also pledged to at long-last harness the power of the River Mersey to spearhead our aim to be carbon neutral by 2040. Having now set up the Special Purpose Vehicle structure to deliver the project, I was delighted last week to appoint Brent Cheshire, former UK Chair of Dong Energy, to spearhead a tidal energy scheme with massive transformational potential.
Complementing our energy strategy, we want to link our world class digital and knowledge assets, including the UK’s most powerful super-computer at SciTech Daresbury, to the superfast GTT trans-Atlantic cable which reaches the UK mainland at Southport, as part of a strategy to make us the most digitally connected City Region in the UK. A six month study to provide us with the route map to achieve this ambition is now also underway.
Both projects are about harnessing latent potential, exploiting what’s unique about our place, and building on assets and specialisms that give us a genuine competitive edge.
But I am also anxious to harness the potential of our other great natural asset – our people. We have to radically raise educational attainment and skills levels across our City Region to boost levels of local and national productivity and align provision with the jobs of tomorrow.
That’s why one of my earliest priorities was to establish a Skills Commission to engage with business, schools, training providers and young people to reconfigure provision and expand opportunities. This is a clear area where a devolved approach and control over resources is an absolute necessity. I have continued to lobby Government for additional powers and especially repatriation of the under-spend of the Apprenticeship Levy to support our vision for more Gold Standard and degree level apprenticeships.
Skills and infrastructure – including the vitally important Northern Powerhouse Rail – are obvious areas where a centralised, and often South East-centric approach is clearly failing. Unless there is a much greater commitment to genuine devolution, the objectives of the UK Industrial Strategy and our place in a post-Brexit world will be seriously compromised.
This week Centre for Cities is bringing together the UK’s metro mayors with US counterparts for the first ever UK-International metro mayors’ summit – more information is available here