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Metro Mayors fire off a devolution warning to Sir Kier Starmer

The next Labour Government MUST commit to continuing devolution and give even more autonomy to the regions, according to Metro Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram.

Mr Burnham, Metro Mayor for Greater Manchester, says: “After the May elections, 90% of the north will have a mayor and a combined authority, 90% is a very different picture to the one that faced the last incoming Labour government. So, they've got to go with it.”

And in a warning shot to Labour Leader Sir Kier Starmer, Mr Burnham added: “I’m going to be honest and say it, you know, I can see myself potentially being at odds with them if anything different happens.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said his message to Sir Kier would be: “Do levelling up properly or scrap the whole thing.”

Mr Rotheram accused the current Tory Government of ‘kidding people that areas are being levelled up’ but said there is still a massive bias towards the south of the country. He wants to see a new Labour Government support a levelling up programme which is equally fair to the north of England.

Mr Rotheram says the potential for areas like Liverpool and Manchester is huge while London has been allowed to ‘become the epicentre of everything for the country’ which he said was causing problems.

“If you take London out the equation, then this country is a very, very poor country. In fact, if we were to join the United States, we would be the 51st richest state in America. That's how poor it is,” he added.

The Metro Mayors were speaking at an ‘Audience With’ event at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn to discuss their recently published book Head North: A Rallying Cry for a More Equal Britain.

During the evening guests heard a special video message from Lord Michael Heseltine, regarded as the key figure who was instrumental in beginning the regeneration of Liverpool in the wake of the 1981 Toxteth riots. The former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister was also dubbed the ‘Minister for Merseyside’ and has said that his work in the city ranks as his greatest achievement. He was subsequently made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in 2012.

Lord Heseltine commented: “One memory I have of my experiences in Liverpool in the early 1980s, it was that no one was in charge. The real power was all centred on the big spending departments in London who rigorously controlled the local authorities. There was no attempt to design policies based on the opportunities that existed locally to tackle the problems that local people knew to exist.”

Lord Heseltine said he was privileged to play a role in David Cameron’s Government to transform the situation through the introduction of conurbation authorities with directly elected Mayors.

He added: “What is clear is that we are on that journey and the signposts today are all pointing in the right direction. I wish you well.”

The audience, including businesses leaders, business organisations and local political leaders, heard that both Mayors want to see big reforms in the way that Central Government operates.

Mr Burnham said that ‘Britain needs its political wiring fixed so that power flows evenly and fairly and comprehensively across all parts of the country’.

He said the country needed a national Parliament but that the way it has treated local government is appalling. He added: “You need a national system of government, but it needs to do what it needs to do and not do everything. As Michael (Heseltine) was saying in the video, it's trying to do everything. It's trying to run everything, and it has decimated local government.”

Mr Rotheram also criticised the country’s two-tier political system at Westminster. Although he said that not everyone in the House of Lords was doing a bad job, it still has ‘more members who went to Harrow and Eaton than who were born in Liverpool or Greater Manchester’.

He said: “Regional disparity needs to be addressed and one of the suggestions in the book in the second half is how we can go about that, how you could change the second chamber to better reflect the regions and nations of this country.”

He added: “The question is, how do we create a more functional country that's fair to everybody everywhere.”

The Mayors also called for further Westminster reform by scrapping the ‘Whip’ voting system in the House of Commons.

Mr Burnham said he would get rid of the Whip system because it diminishes politicians by telling them how to vote.

He added: “That’s just not right. When they're voting on issues like the Middle East, Iraq, as I voted on, you know, it should be the judgment of that person on that issue that guides how they vote, not pressure and threats and blackmail. That's what brings people into disrepute”

Mr Burnham said: “I spent 16 years in parliament and what I believe 16 years working in the whip system does to you is it makes you appear like you're a fraud because it makes you vote in certain ways and say certain things that you may not fully believe. And in the end, you wonder why politicians don't come over to the public.”

He added: “It would raise the status of our MPs if they could do what Steve and I now do, which is more independently speak more freely about things and represent people in a different way. And it's one of the reasons I think, I don't know if you agree Steve, why the Mayors are connecting, I think, a bit more than Westminster is connecting at the moment.”

The Mayors told the audience that both cities had major programmes including a ground-breaking digital connectivity in Liverpool with high speed fibre link to North America; big new rail announcements on the way for Liverpool and Manchester and proposals in Greater Manchester to introduce an alternative to university education with a new course pathway taking young people through T levels and apprenticeships, and even degree level apprenticeships, at the same level as a degree, but without any debt.

The Mayors also believe their pioneering Net Zero aspirations are so advanced with the North-West’s natural assets, they can not only become Net Zero but also become a net exporter of green energy in the 21st century.

Mr Burnham said Net Zero is the region’s ‘bridge to the future’.

SOG boss John Lewis MBE, owner of The Heath Business and Technical Park, who hosted the audience with the Mayors, said afterwards: “Since Steve and Andy became Metro Mayors, they have had to lead Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester through a global pandemic, a war in Europe, 13 consecutive interest rate rises, an energy crisis to match the 1970’s and double-digit inflation, in addition to the Manchester bombing and Government intervention with the running of Liverpool.

“What they have achieved to date is truly remarkable but imagine what could be achieved with a few quieter years, so we can see their visions grow and benefit us without such disruptions?”

Head North: A Rallying Cry for a More Equal Britain is published by Orion Publishing Group

Note to Editors:

Photo: Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram at The Heath Business and Technical Park on Tuesday, April 9th.

Film Clips: Drop Box link with filmed comments from Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram with cutaway shots of ‘An Audience with Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham’

About The Heath
The Heath Business and Technical Park is a phenomenal regeneration success story. Formed in 2000, its owner and operator, SOG Ltd, has transformed a once single occupancy corporate facility into a thriving independent business park. The Heath now provides office and laboratory accommodation for more than 120 individual organisations, ranging from business services and IT specialists to those at the cutting edge of science, research and advanced manufacturing. Around 2,000 people are employed at the site. For further information, telephone 01928 515988 or visit

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12th April 2024