Since 2010, austerity, primarily in the form of deep spending cuts, has been the UK government’s dominant fiscal policy and local government budgets remain under strain. In 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government announced the biggest cuts to state spending since the Second World War and levels of poverty have in turn risen year on year. In the Liverpool City Region, one in three children are currently growing up in poverty.
In the face of these government cuts and rising levels of poverty, it has been critical for local government to try new and innovative ways of working to order to maximise the value from public spending. The government has recognised that cross council collaboration is a fundamental way of stimulating local economic growth in order to help reduce the impact of austerity. Aligning the activity of local authorities across neighbouring borders can better address issues which are not confined to one authority. This is managed through the creation of Combined Authorities, formal partnerships between neighbouring authorities which remove geographical restrictions with the aim of increasing economic prosperity.
What is a Combined Authority (CA)?
A Combined Authority is a legal body set up using national legislation that enables a group of two or more councils to take decisions on issues which extend beyond the interests of any one local authority. The creation of a Combined Authority allows member councils to be more ambitious through formal joint working agreements and means they can more effectively take advantage of the powers and resources devolved to them from centrall government.
Currently, nine Combined Authorities have been established in England and seven have secured devolution deals and have in place and elected Mayor. In the North West, there are two Combined Authorities, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The elected Mayors chair their Combined Authority and provide vision and leadership to ensure that decisions made through the region’s devolutions deal will directly benefit local people.
What are the benefits of a Combined Authoritiy and how will the power devolved from central government better benefit the local population?
Government has, in some instances, struggled to devolve power when it has not been clear who to devolve it to. Combined Authorities help overcome this; they provide Government with the accountable leadership necessary to enable the devolution of power to cities and to enable local policies to be effectively implemented.
In order to support local economic growth most effectively, local policies which respond to unique regional circumstances are critical and need to be implemented on a scale that matches the cities’ economic footprint, which can often cover more than one local authority. The benefits of cross council collaboration in the form of a Combined Authority can include:
- Improved long-term strategic decision making which is directly beneficial to the local community.
- A clear external voice to Government and investors which helps to ‘put the city on the map’ and brings in trade and investment.
- Improved alignment in the coordination and delivery of economic development initiatives, including transport related initiatives which directly impact how people live and work in the region.
- A means by which to steer significant streams of work.
How does this work for Liverpool City Region?
It is the belief of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, that communities are best placed to make decisions about important local issues and that the devolution of power to make local decisions is an important and fundamental requirement in order to deliver public services which reflect local need.
Important goals for Liverpool City Region Combined Authority are to create jobs and apprenticeships, make it easier to travel in and around the city region, renovate and improve schools and colleges, help long-term unemployed families back into work and to support cultural events. These are issues which are relevant to all the local authorities within the Liverpool City Region and so an integrated approach adds significant momentum to finding solutions.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has introduced a number of schemes to tackle poverty in the region, including a Fair Employment Charter to address rising in-work poverty, the £8m Households into Work programme to work with long term unemployed people in the region, and the £500m Strategic Investment Fund designed to support the local economy and create high-quality jobs.
Earlier in June this year, they announced the launch of an £18m fund to enable local colleges and learning providers to improve their facilities. The £18m funding comes from the Local Growth Fund, which was awarded to the Liverpool City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and invested through the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Strategic Investment Fund. This type of investment is allocated across the region to various learning providers where it is needed most and will ultimately help them to provide the right environments to improve vocational outcomes for students. The creation of the Combined Authority has provided a vehicle by which to steer significant streams of income and investment to improve outcomes for people in the region.
The Role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Collaboration
So, what are the differences between Combined Authorities and LEPs? LEPs are business led partnerships between local authorities and local private sector businesses. LEP boards are led by a business Chair and board members are local leaders of industry (including SMEs), educational institutions and the public sector. They have similar objectives to the Combined Authorities in that they also promote working in collaboration to gain the best outcomes for the various authorities they represent, and they play a central role in determining local economic priorities to drive economic growth and job creation, improve infrastructure and raise workforce skills within the local area. LEPs and Combined Authorities work together in alignment within the region to collectively set the vision for growth and investment across the member local authorities.
A Greater Voice on a National Stage
Both LEPs and Combined Authorities are an effective way to align public sector services across large geographical areas and, importantly, they provide a clear external voice to Government and to investors to bring in important funding streams. This is especially relevant in cities outside of London and the South East.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has been applying pressure to enable the HS2 route to include Liverpool and Manchester. This campaign was successful, it has been confirmed that Liverpool and Manchester will have full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse connectivity. This is anticipated to deliver a £15 billion boost to the region’s economy, providing 24,000 jobs, 11,000 new homes and 3.6 million extra visitors for Liverpool City Region. This success serves as an excellent example of how working across regional borders can provide a greater voice on a national stage.