Government must give us a fair deal, or give us the powers to help ourselves

Our city has always known that when it came to austerity, the promise that ‘we are all in this together’ was just another empty Government slogan.

The reality – as I’ve been saying for years, and confirmed today by a Centre for Cities report – is that Liverpool has been hardest hit by austerity. Today we have £441 million a year less to spend than we did in 2009/10 – £816 less for every citizen.

It couldn’t be clearer that we can’t expect this Government to treat this city fairly. This isn’t one bad year or a blip – it’s a decade of ideological choices which has seen our city bear the brunt of the austerity agenda. Targeting cuts on central grants was always going to hit northern urban areas the hardest – and the figures are proof of that.

These statistics aren’t just lines on a screen in Whitehall – its people’s lives. Ministers should visit my city to see for themselves the devastating impact of the cuts, because at the moment they simply don’t get it. Years ago, I even sent the then Secretary of State, Eric – now Sir Eric – Pickles, a return train ticket to come and see the impact of cuts his department had made (he declined).

 

I have spoken before about the Tale of Two cities, where our city prospers with record levels of regeneration, while at the same time front-line services are unfairly beaten and bludgeoned. I thought of this today as the disparity in our country was laid bare for all to see. If there is one thing that we hate in this city it is injustice. We won’t stand for it and have a proud history of fighting it in all its forms. If we’d had just the average cut of other councils we’d be £80million better off.

We’re not asking for special treatment – we’ve only ever been asking for fairness.

The irony hasn’t escaped me that my Inclusive Growth Plan has a vision for Liverpool as ‘a growing city built on fairness’ – yet I’m trying to deliver that with the most unfair funding deal in the country. Why should our children growing up in Kirkdale or our elderly in Kensington be worse off than someone in Oxford because of an unfair funding formula? Why should the services you can expect from your Council be decided by a postcode lottery?

 

Let me be clear – we have already made some really difficult choices. Since 2010 we’ve cut around 3000 staff, sold buildings and transferred some libraries and youth centres to the voluntary sector. This isn’t what I came into politics to do but it’s what I’m having to do to keep our council running and do everything I can for the most vulnerable in my city.

And given our circumstances I find it astounding that we have been able to manage keeping our City running and delivering services in the way that we have. We’ve worked hard to keep all of children’s centres and leisure centre open and continue to run the best cultural events programme in the country. We are doing great things around infrastructure like housing, regeneration and jobs by being entrepreneurial and creative, but the cuts in day-to-day spending are stopping us from reaching our full potential.

We’re being more bold and innovative than ever– our ‘Invest to Earn’ strategy has generated millions in new revenue – but instead of using that money to grow the economy further we’re having to use it to plug the gaping holes left by central government cuts. What angers me most is that we could be doing so much more as a City if this government had treated us fairly.

 

Talking about councils needing to do more and tightening their belts lets government off the hook. It’s a narrative that lets them talk about efficiencies and working smarter while slashing our funding by a colossal 64%.

What is most galling is that this report comes at a time when there are whispers that it will be shire counties that will benefit most from the current review of the council tax funding formula. That tells you everything about this government’s priorities.

They haven’t been listening so far and I won’t be holding my breath that they will start now, even when a respected, independent think tank has confirmed what I have been saying for years.

My fear is that with Brexit dominating the domestic political agenda and Parliament in deadlock, the needs of desperate councils – especially larger urban authorities – are way down the ministerial pecking order.

So we must redouble our lobbying events and tell Government it is time to make a choice: give us a fair deal or give us the freedoms and powers to help ourselves.