During a debate in Parliament on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, St Helens South and Whiston MP Marie Rimmer called for the Government to ensure that having an elected Mayor is not a prerequisite for local devolution.
Marie highlighted that in 2004, St Helens residents clearly rejected the Mayoral model of governance and also talked about the apparent discrepancies between different parts of the country. She highlighted the fact that areas such as Cornwall have been offered devolution without the imposition of a Mayoral system.
Marie also commended the innovative work that local councils like St Helens do, forming partnerships and pooling health and social care funding to improve services and quality of life. Under Marie’s leadership, St Helens Council launched the very first public-private sector partnership, Ravenhead Renaissance which the then Conservative Minister, Michael Hesseltine, praised and extolled the virtues of the model across the country.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Marie said: “St Helens consulted all its residents back in 2004, and got a resounding no to an elected mayor. It went for a strong leader model. Some three or four years ago, we took a resolution through council, and unanimously decided—Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour—that we were opposed to a city region elected mayor.
“It is what is not in the Bill that is of concern rather than what is. Practically none of the specific responsibilities of this Bill is actually mentioned in it. What is concerning is the bilateral discussions that have gone on between the Chancellor and local authority leaders. They have not been transparent or open. Councillors are not aware of what is going on behind those doors, so heaven help the public. We talk about the devolution of power to communities and yet we deny those communities the right to decide whether they want a mayoral model. It just does not bode well.”
Local Government budgets have suffered more than any other area in recent years as councils such as Knowsley and St Helens have been hit by cuts of over 40%. Concerns have been raised that the Government’s bill is simply about forcing local areas to deal with even greater cuts while this Government washes their hands of responsibility.
Speaking after the debate, Marie added, “In St Helens we have already lost more from our Government grant funding than what we collect in council tax. This government are devolving cuts to communities, not devolving real power.
“Labour supports real devolution to empower our communities, but this government’s plan is a top down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to areas like St Helens South and Whiston.”