City at ‘moment of great opportunity’ claims Gove

Liverpool stands at a “moment of great opportunity” and leaders must now set its course for growth according to a senior government minister.

As dignitaries gathered in the city to discuss the report set out for the future of Liverpool by a government-mandated panel, Secretary of State Michael Gove has urged leaders to ensure they build on the work done since an excoriating 2021 Best Value Report. In the aftermath of a critical second analysis by Whitehall-appointed commissioners in August last year, the Liverpool Strategic Futures Panel was established to help plot a course for Liverpool Council to be free of direct government oversight. 

As the panel, chaired by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, sets out its interim findings, Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has set out how the government expects Liverpool to carry this forward.

Sir Howard Bernstein, former chief executive of Manchester Council, and Baroness Judith Blake, the former leader of Leeds Council, have been tasked to support Metro Mayor Rotheram in the work alongside Liverpool Council to deliver a direction for the city in the months and years ahead. An initial report was issued to the Department for Levelling Up in September.

Writing to Mr Rotheram on the publishing of the interim findings, Mr Gove said, “Like you, I am convinced that this is a moment of great opportunity for Liverpool. I fully support your emphasis on the importance of strong place leadership, and the necessity of embedding stronger collaboration between local civic institutions and the wider community of businesses, residents, and other public agencies. 

“I welcome the recommendations you have set out, which will be instrumental in strengthening the local institutional capacity to articulate and deliver a vision for the future of Liverpool.”

The Surrey Heath MP – in his second stint in the portfolio – set out in his letter what he described as clear expectations for the development of work moving forward. This included “high-quality regeneration at the heart of Liverpool’s renaissance”.

Mr Gove said subject to Treasury approval, capital funding from government would be made available to support partnership working. The former leadership hopeful recommended an additional panel member alongside Sir Howard and Baroness Blake to work alongside the combined authority and Liverpool Council in supporting the development.

On developing public services, Mr Gove said he expected to see “firm evidence” of engagement in delivery when considering requests for support. He added, “Any prototype project should also have a clear path to expanding across Liverpool and the wider city region, given the vital importance of Liverpool’s surrounding communities to the city’s success, and I ask that you work with local leaders to maintain this focus throughout the next phase of the development of this work.”

Despite the emphasis on councillors and the combined authority leading development for Liverpool, the cabinet minister said government would continue to have oversight. He said, “I strongly agree with your view that local leaders must ultimately be responsible for setting the course of Liverpool’s growth.

“I recognise, however, that my department has a vital role to play in supporting the initial phases of this work, and therefore will endeavour to make officials available to support both the implementation of your recommendations and the development of any wider growth strategy.  I will be interested to understand LCC commissioners’ reflections on the development and implementation of this work over the coming months, given the alignment between your recommendations and their improvement indicators.

“I look forward to receiving your final report in March 2024. In the interim, I ask that you work with LCC and LCRCA to conclude the design process for the establishment of the Regeneration partnership and prototype for the Centre for Public Service Innovation by Christmas and look forward to reviewing your plans then.”

Image: Michael Gove, official portrait CC BY 3.0

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