Liverpool has two elected mayors. It’s time to scrap one of them

Double vision: Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram. Image: Getty.

If we didn’t have the local elections, we would need to invent them. It’s an opportunity – a valuable one – for political campaigners to listen to what the voters are saying and reflect on what they tell us. I’ve heard it loud and clear on the doorstep for weeks: Liverpool has had enough of being run by an elected mayor.

Time and again, it came up, reflecting what many of our party members across Liverpool and a sizeable part of our controlling group on the council also believe. There are three problems as I see it. The first, is that too much power rests at the centre with a single individual. At first, we thought this would be a positive – helping take decisive action to turn our city around after decades of decline. And, partly, we were right. The mayoral model has meant that decision-making is quicker and more decisive.

This is fine when the decisions taken are the right ones. But we know that’s not always going to be the case. Until last year, I served as Joe Anderson’s deputy, so I’m in a good position to not only praise him for so much that he has achieved as mayor of the city, but also to recognise when something now needs to change.

We’ve seen in rows like the proposed development of part of Calderstones Park, just how few checks and balances we have in place to stop a bad idea from gaining ground, before common sense prevails. (It took a petition of more than 50,000 ordinary people to get the mayor to see sense and drop his plans). 

Perhaps our greatest achievement as a Labour administration since we took back control of Liverpool in 2010 (and one frequently cited by the mayor himself) was to build or substantially renovate 22 new schools after the Tory/Lib Dem coalition pulled the plug on us by scrapping Building Schools for the Future. 

Under Joe’s leadership, we put together a funding package that allowed us to take control and develop the schools ourselves. The crucial point is that this was achieved before we switched to the mayoral model in 2012, when we had the standard leader and cabinet model. We simply don’t need a mayor to be bold. 

The second problem is that the freedom to take executive decisions needs to be tempered with the responsibility to consult, persuade and to bring people and communities along. So much that is wrong with our politics in this city is that there is precious little consulting and persuading and too much bossing and demanding. 

Diktat not dialogue is how it comes across to people in the city. It also leaves councillors as spectators when it comes to the running of their own city. Democratic adornments while key decisions about the city take place on the Fourth Floor of the Cunard Building. 

The third problem is that there is a risk the mayor’s personal ‘brand’ become synonymous with that of the city. While it can be useful to have a single figurehead when it comes to dealing with investors, it is not vital. Although Andy Burnham is the mayor of the Manchester City region, the renaissance of the city over the past 25 years has been led by Sir Richard Leese, the Leader of Manchester City Council. 

Widely respected and with an inclusive style, Richard has probably achieved more than any civic leader in the country on the very model I am urging my colleagues in Liverpool to return back to.

Moreover, if Liverpool is to have a single mayoral figurehead, it is better that this is our city region mayor, Steve Rotheram. At the moment, Liverpool has mayoral overload, with a metro mayor, a city mayor, a lord mayor, three deputy mayors and an assistant mayor.  Neither do we need to see our city mayor pulled into noisy spats on Twitter, or offering opinions on Everton’s starting eleven.

The mayoral model in Liverpool is no longer fit-for-purpose. What we need now is a style of leadership that brings people together. Less confrontational and needlessly divisive. No more personality politics and diktats from the centre. More open and collegiate. 

We need to relearn lessons that we have forgotten. The leadership of the council needs to engage with communities to win its case. No more instructions from on high. A new model for a new chapter in the life of our city. This is best achieved by returning to having a council leader and cabinet.

Councillor Ann O’Byrne is the former deputy mayor of Liverpool and deputy leader of Liverpool Labour party.


Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.

A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.