End of term report: How is Steve Rotheram doing as mayor of the Liverpool City Region?

Steve Rotherham, mayor of the Liverpool City Region, May 2017. Image: Getty.

Continuing the Centre for Cities’ round up of the first half-year of metro mayors, we look at Steve Rotheram, Labour mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

Steve Rotheram’s victory in the Liverpool City Region’s metro mayor election came as little surprise, with the former Labour MP for Walton securing 59 per cent of the vote in what is one of his party’s staunchest strongholds. This put Rotheram in charge of an Investment Fund worth £900m over 30 years, and gave him powers over transport, housing and employment & skills.

In his first speech after the election, the new Liverpool City Region mayor set out his priorities for his mayoralty, which include joining up the transport network and boosting digital infrastructure to better connect the six boroughs that make up the combined authority. Since then, he has appointed his team and set out a plan for the city region organised around five key words: ambitious, fair, green, connected and together.

After six months, it’s too early to gauge the impact of this long term vision, but it’s clear that Rotheram is already making an impression on the national and local level.

Progress and key moments

Rotheram’s impact has been most visible in his representation of the city region’s needs and interests on the national political stage. He has demonstrated the capacity to be pragmatic in his dealings with central government despite party political differences, while also challenging national leaders when necessary.

In his mayoral campaign, Rotheram consistently attacked the government’s austerity policies, unsurprisingly given the political landscape in the Liverpool city region. But moving from the poetry of campaign to the prose of office, Rotheram used his first speech as mayor to invite the Prime Minister Theresa May to Liverpool to discuss the issues facing the city region, and the potential for the mayor to take on more devolved powers. By doing so, Rotheram signalled his willingness to engage and collaborate with national government, which will be essential to bringing about change in his city region.

However, he has also taken the government to task when necessary in order to raise the concerns and needs of the people he represents. For example, Rotheram has been vocal in criticising the government over the introduction of Universal Credit, calling for the mayors to have greater influence and powers over managing its rollout. He has lobbied for the mayors to have control over the apprenticeship levy, arguing that the current underspend in this revenue could be used to deliver other employment training programmes for young people.

Most prominently, Rotheram – who made lobbying for Crossrail for the North a key election campaign – has joined with his fellow Labour mayor Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) to campaign for greater investment in transport in the city region and across the north. Together, the metro mayors in the north west have put this issue at the top of the national political agenda. For example, when the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling cancelled the electrification of the Leeds-Manchester rail line in July, it was Rotheram and Burnham who stepped into the breach to voice the anger and frustration of people living in their cities.

This intervention – which represents the most high profile moment of Rotheram’s mayoralty thus far – helped to create a political headache for the government over the summer, and illustrated the leadership and representation that Rotheram (and Burnham) are offering to their cities.


Toughest challenge

One of the key challenges facing Rotherham is managing political relationships within the combined authority. Liverpool city region’s mayor, along with the West of England mayor, faces a different geographical challenge different from other combined authorities in two respects.

Firstly, both city regions are composed of one big local authority which accounts for the lion’s share of the combined authority’s overall population  – in Rotherham’s case Liverpool – along with other relatively smaller authorities (Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral). Both city regions also feature a directly elected mayor within the main local authority – in Liverpool’s case, Joe Anderson, who had was pipped to the post of Labour candidate for metro mayor by Rotheram.

In this context, it was to be expected that there could be some tensions between the city region mayor and the city mayor. Resolving and managing these issues will be critical for Rotheram, who will need the support from local leaders across the city region to make the most of his devolved powers in the coming years.

Biggest opportunity

Our analysis suggests that the biggest issue holding back the economy of the Liverpool city region is skills gaps in its workforce. This is reflected in the fact only 53 per cent of students in the area achieve five good GCSE results (A*-C), lower than the average across England and Wales (58 per cent).

While this poses a significant challenge for Rotheram to address, it also offers the mayor an opportunity to have a long term impact. His plan for the city region recognised the need to address this issue, featuring pledges to map and bridge skills gaps, and to focus on raising school standards.  

Both will be critical in ensuring the city region has the skilled workforce needed to attract businesses and jobs – as well as boosting wages – and should be a top priority for Rotheram in the coming years.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

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Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.