Council leader non-committal on devo bid

Barrie Grunewald
Barrie Grunewald

ST Helens council leader Coun Barrie Grunewald has tempered expectations on the Liverpool city region devolution bid.

The region is one of dozens to have submitted bids to the government for a similar deal to the one Greater Manchester has signed up to.

But Coun Grunewald said it remains to be seen whether the benefits of devolution is “worth the price of an elected mayor.”

Last week St Helens South and Whiston MP Marie Rimmer said an elected mayor should not be a prerequisite of a devolution deal.

Coun Grunewald said: “The St Helens position has remained the same throughout and it is simply this - St Helens Council, and indeed other local authorities, have yet to be given the detail of what powers are to be devolved and what any final devolution deal may look like.

“Of course we have made a bid, and it is not for me to comment on what anonymous government ministers say to journalists (referring to reports Liverpool’s bid is set to be rejected) on what they think of the bid.

“However this was a document that all leaders signed up to, asking for devolution, and each leader has always been clear to Government - show us the deal and we, along with our fellow local councillors, will decide.

“This is not rocket science and is fairly straightforward.

“There are a number of areas I’d like to see devolved down but, until any final deal is presented to us, we are not in a position to see whether the prize is worth the price of an elected Mayor.

“So I’d urge Government to hurry up and come forward with details of what the ‘prize’ may be - and then we’ll all know where we stand. We can make an informed decision, having reached our own view, on whether the government are serious about devolution - and share the region’s ambitions - or whether this is all part of a cruel deception, with little power and influence being passed down other than yet more swingeing cuts to our areas.”

Civic leaders in neighbouring Greater Manchester also said prior to their deal that they did not need a metro mayor because the region already had a functioning combined authority.

However, the mayoral system was a deal-breaker for chancellor George Osborne.

Ms Rimmer, speaking in the House of Commons on the Devolution Bill this week, said: “It is what is not in the Bill that is of concern rather than what is. Practically none of the specific responsibilities of this Bill is actually mentioned in it. What is concerning is the bilateral discussions that have gone on between the Chancellor and local authority leaders.

“They have not been transparent or open. Councillors are not aware of what is going on behind those doors, so heaven help the public. We talk about the devolution of power to communities and yet we deny those communities the right to decide whether they want a mayoral model. It just does not bode well.”