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.


“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.

At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.