Leeds should “exploit” devolution to its full says Liverpool’s Metro Mayor

Published on Business stage: Scaling, Starting, Thinking, Unlocking

Devolution has enabled a northern city to become the first in the UK to own and operate its own trains as part of a bid to tackle social inequality.

In day three of the Yorkshire Evening Post’s look at one of the hottest topics in politics, Emma Ryan finds out why Steve Rotherham thinks he is on the right track as Mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

On the Merseyside rail network, the first of 52 new trains have just been unveiled.

To be delivered over the course of the next year, the fleet has been designed specifically for the Merseyrail network in the Liverpool City Region.

Transport

The scheme follows the failure of plans to introduce a tram to the region – something long-campaigned for in Leeds.

After a period of testing, the new trains will soon replace the current 40-year-old fleet, part of a half a billion-pound programme of investment, and will help create 1000 new jobs and boost the local economy by more than £70m a year.

They will also be able to carry 50 per cent more passengers, have cycle spaces and unassisted access for disabled people.

Steve Rotherham, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, says the rail scheme meets the needs of local people and represents vast progress in light of a failed tram plan years earlier.

However, he adds, it would not be happening without devolution for the Liverpool City Region region, which encompasses six local authorities and 1.6 million residents.

Aside from football and The Beatles, Liverpool was historically famous for its docks, shipping and manufacturing but a decline in those industries led to massive job losses and by the mid 1980s, Liverpool had some of the highest unemployment rates in the UK.

“One of the reasons I think people identified that devolution would be an opportunity for us is that we had the opportunity for a tram but it ended up with the local authorities falling out,”

Mr Rotherham said.

“We did not get it and still have not got the tram. We weren’t acting as a collaboration and that was a lesson.”

Transport and connectivity remain high on his list of priorities, whether it be to improve access to culture or work opportunities.

Some rail stations have been upgraded to include a bus interchange, some new stations have been added to existing lines and in 2018 a new Apprentice Travelcard was launched offering 19-24 year-olds who are on apprenticeships half-price bus travel across Merseyside.

Apprenticeships

In turn that became a way of addressing unemployment, by encouraging young people to access training, apprenticeships and jobs. In addition there is also a pledge to anyone aged up to 25 that finds themselves not in education, employment or training that LCR will find them a job or an apprentice role.

Mr Rotherham said:

“I am from a vocational background and better understand the hurdles and impediments for working class kids to get apprenticeships.

“The problem they had in taking up some opportunities was the cost of travel. We introduced a new scheme for half price bus and rail travel. That has been transformational for kids who potentially could not get an apprenticeship because of the cost of travel.”

Also being worked up is the next phase in the Mersey Tidal Project where energy is generated from the water. LCR is working on a business case, that if it comes off, will lead to thousands of jobs, Liverpool being carbon neutral by 2040 and enough power for a million homes or 500 football stadiums.

However, Mr Rotherham feels “the jury is still out” when it comes to devolution and the everyday man on the street.

He said:

“For most people, while they would like the city region to do great things, what they want is to have a better life.

“They go to work for all the hours God sends to put bread on the table and sometimes don’t see the bigger picture. But, ask a different question they say why did we not get our tram and you can say if we had had a Combined Authority at that time we would have.

“The role is rewarding and it will be very much when we can deliver some of the things in the pipeline. What people really want to see is delivery on the ground – they want to see trains running and more apprentices.”

Exploit

When asked about the prospects for Leeds and West Yorkshire, with talks underway about a devolution deal locally, Steve Rotherham had one simple message.

“Devolution – it’s day has come. Exploit it to the full”

“Both myself and Andy Burnham (the mayor of Greater Manchester) have spoken with Judith Blake and are very supportive of other areas getting devolution. It is what you do with devolution that is the key but think how powerful Yorkshire coming together could be? It has massive scale and potential.”

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