Ambitious plans to develop public transport, grow the economy and improve lives are central to Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s budget for 2023-24.
The budget, to be considered at next week’s Combined Authority meeting, sets out millions of pounds of funding to deliver core objectives that will grow the economy, create jobs and build a stronger and fairer city region.
It also acknowledges the pressures that inflation, rising energy costs and the national economic situation are placing on the public sector, the wider economy and on city region residents.
The budget contains plans to freeze the Mayoral Precept for the fourth year running – as Mayor Steve Rotheram ‘tries to shield people from the worst excesses of the cost-of-living crisis’. The move comes just weeks after the Mayor unveiled a £4.7m package of cost-of-living support including advice for the hardest hit and help with digital inclusion.
And in a bid to keep travel affordable for residents, Mayor Rotheram has already introduced several cost-saving measures to the city region’s public transport including £2 single adult bus fares and a freeze on the cost of the young person’s MyTicket that gives unlimited, all-day travel in the city region.
The budget also identifies how the authority will ensure a balanced and sustainable budget in the coming years, while continuing to deliver on its priorities. More than £5m of savings have already been identified through modernising how the authority operates.
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said, “This is, without doubt, the most difficult budget I have had to put together during my time as Mayor. Pressures out of our control have seen costs rising across the board and, as anybody managing a household budget will understand, soaring inflation means that Combined Authority funding does not stretch as far as it would have this time last year.
“It is something that people across the region will be all too familiar with. The knock-on effects of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine coupled with the actions – and inaction – of the government have seen ordinary people hit by a perfect storm of soaring energy bills, stagnant wages and sky-high inflation. The Combined Authority is not immune to these pressures.
“Wherever possible, working alongside our local council leaders, we have tried to shield people from the worst excesses of the cost-of-living crisis and not place an undue burden on those who cannot afford it – including a £5m investment to support households through the coming months.
“The budget we are proposing will help us continue to prop up the region’s bus network, support rough sleepers off the streets and into housing, give our young people the skills, training and opportunities they need to succeed, and continuing to attract new jobs and investment into the region.
“Through devolution and greater local decision-making, we are charting our own course, protecting our residents where the government will not, and ensuring that we put ourselves in a position to succeed even in these difficult times. Working together, we will build the fairest, most inclusive region possible, where no one is left behind.”
The move to freeze the Mayoral precept recognises the financial challenges facing households while prioritising digital connectivity, tidal energy, bus reform and other projects that will deliver significant and long-term benefits to the city region.
The budget includes plans to invest more than £10m in Business and Innovation during 2023-24 to grow the economy and create jobs. More than £23m is earmarked for housing-related projects, including preparing previously developed land to build homes, and millions of pounds will support adult education.
More than £20m will also support the development of Southport’s Marine Lake Events Centre and film studios at the former Littlewoods building.
The biggest investment is in public transport to support the Mayor’s wider vision to build a London-style integrated transport network that is faster, cheaper, cleaner and more reliable, providing residents with a genuine alternative to the car.
This includes investments in brand new, publicly owned trains, a fleet of hydrogen buses and more than £50m invested in new walking and cycling infrastructure. It also includes investment in new train stations, including Headbolt Lane in Kirkby, a new Mersey Ferry and Green Bus Routes.
The transport levy paid by the local authorities to support operational transport activities will increase by 2.95% – well below the national rate of inflation.
The budget also includes increases in some transport fees and charges, however, Liverpool City Region residents will continue to pay the lowest tunnel tolls.
Under the budget proposals, local people travelling through the Mersey Tunnels will continue to pay the lowest prices. With 45% of all Mersey Tunnels users being T-Flow or Fast Tag holders living in the city region, tens of thousands of people every day will benefit from the lowest toll available.
Fares for supported bus services will be capped at £2, in line with the new reduced adult single fare introduced by Mayor Rotheram, while young people’s fares on the same routes will be capped at £1.
Mersey Ferries commuter passengers’ fares will remain frozen – £2.90 for a single and £3.80 for a return journey – which it is hoped will encourage more people to use them.