A business leader is calling on a devolution deal for Warrington to be based on economics – not politics.
Paul Taylor, MD at Taylor Business Park and Vice Chair of Cheshire Business Leaders, believes the decision is based on political reasons and fears of a Tory Mayor being elected – not economic ones.
He was responding to reports that a task group set up by Warrington Borough Council is to recommend the council to join forces with Liverpool rather than Cheshire.
Mr Taylor said: “While I have the utmost respect for our local councillors and MPs I feel the reason for their desire to do this must be justified.”
He says Warrington is currently part of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and is enjoying a great deal of sustained investment from it. Funds that are released from central government are utilised by the LEPs which must put forward economically viable cases to receive the investment.
“Warrington has enjoyed an important seat at the table at this LEP which is currently made up of the three Cheshire councils, including Warrington and is chaired by local business leaders. They have secured four enterprise zones in Cheshire, one of which is right here in Birchwood. Liverpool secured just two- the city itself and the Mersey Waters – if you don’t count Daresbury which was actually bid for by the Cheshire and Warrington LEP.”
Mr Taylor points out that other boroughs, Halton, Sefton, Knowsley, St. Helens and Wirral, have received nothing from the Liverpool City Region in the way of enterprise zones and the Liverpool LEP was much slower to get started compared to the way ours began its journey and Liverpool was publicly criticised by the government and other bodies for this at the time. As a result they have received a lower than expected proposed level of income after devolution compared to areas such as Greater Manchester.
“In Cheshire we are one of three regional areas that can argue our need for investment. Should we join the Liverpool City Region we would be one of six, all of which are in much greater need than we are due to their poorly performing economies and inherent social and council funding issues. Even St Helens
would be higher up the pecking order for funds.
“Warrington combined with Cheshire has an impressive economy with a GVA per head of £22,750 and growth per annum of 3.5% compared to Liverpool City Region’s deteriorating £15,600 GVA per head and 1.6% annual growth. We would effectively be boosting their economy while dragging ours down.”
He says National averages (including London) for the above are £21,350 and 4.1% respectively.
“We are the jewel in the Crown in Cheshire when it comes to growth and investment thanks in no small part to the work done to date by the council and Warrington & Co.
“Our economy mirrors those in the rest of the sub-region with a focus on energy and manufacturing that the Liverpool City Region simply does not have the same level of success with. It may be investing in these but only due to the fact that they have seen such low levels of growth over the years.
“The concern is that this looks to be a political decision for the panel, rather than an economic or commercial one which would not bode well for the people and the town of Warrington, which after all is what all this should be about to our local politicians.
“Their main concern seems to lie in the worry that we may end up with a Tory mayor in a Labour stronghold but as we have seen in the recent election of a Labour Police Crime Commissioner for Cheshire these concerns may be unfounded. The key is to put forward the best candidate for the role and to campaign well. Yes, it will be a challenge as any election is, but taking the “safe” route of a guaranteed labour mayor at the sacrifice of the town’s best interests is very concerning. Especially if a Liverpool mayor does not have Warrington’s best interests at heart.
“The panel should be aware that there is no current requirement for areas that are going through the devolution process to have a mayor at all (Yes, they are preferred according to the government but mayors are not necessarily the right thing for all sub-regions). Cheshire is a large area and may be better suited to the status quo where the LEP is already doing an excellent job of distributing funds and resources from central government while local councils continue to manage their own affairs with their rates being collected by the council directly. There will be time to argue this once the first round of devolution with the major city regions has been finalised and to rush to a decision now may be detrimental for our area in the future, especially if we back the wrong horse.
“Their efforts may be better focused on considering how we can argue the need for Cheshire and Warrington as a whole to govern itself without a mayor while still enjoying the benefits of devolution if the threat of a Tory mayor is their main driver for change (and I can see no other reason that they are considering).
Mr Taylor concluded: ” I strongly believe we should be more focused on maintaining our current status as a big fish in a small pond rather suddenly becoming one of many different local authorities in a region that will be focusing on its own city and the struggling outlying authorities that have signed up in the hope of turning their declining economies around.
“We should be looking at how we can best utilise devolution to improve Warrington and its status in Cheshire rather than put all of our business rates and other resources into Liverpool’s pot to distribute how their city mayor sees fit. We are Warrington. We are not St Helens.”