Metro mayor hustings: Northern Powerhouse plans criticised

By Claire Hamilton
Political reporter, BBC Radio Merseyside

Image caption,
Luciana Berger, Joe Anderson and Steve Rotheram are vying to become Labour's candidate in Liverpool's metro mayor election next year

Labour candidates for mayor of the Liverpool city region have criticised plans for a Northern Powerhouse.

Party members on Merseyside are preparing to vote on who they want to run in the metro mayor election in May 2017.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson joined MPs Steve Rotheram and Luciana Berger in a hustings on Thursday night.

Voting to decide Labour's candidate is due to close on 5 August, with the winner due to be announced five days later.

It was the eleventh time the contenders had gathered to field questions.

The metro mayor will help to oversee £900m of public services across Merseyside and Halton under a 30-year devolution deal.

The deal was high on the agenda during the event in Knowsley, with the contenders asked how the funds would be implemented.

Mr Anderson said the government's "rhetoric" about the government's Northern Powerhouse campaign had to be put into practice with "firm commitments to infrastructure plans" such as high speed rail.

Image caption,
A metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region will be elected next year

Liverpool Walton MP Mr Rotheram agreed, and said the Northern Powerhouse was an "abstract construct" that would eventually be abandoned.

"It was a George Osborne idea, and look what happened to him," he said.

He claimed the financial value of the devolution deal was "crumbs off the table" compared to central government funding, which he claimed had been lost to local authorities.

Ms Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, claimed the government would hand over funds with one hand, but would take away from the six councils in the city region with the other.

Other questions focused on transport, education and a new container port currently under construction in Liverpool.

The main disagreement came over whether the metro mayor would be able to help local authorities build new council houses.

Image caption,
The hustings took place in Knowsley on Thursday night

Mr Rotheram said he had been advised it would be possible, Mr Anderson said it would not, and Ms Berger said it was not clear.

Mr Anderson set out his plan to create a rent-to-buy scheme where buyers would be able to purchase a new build home without a deposit.

Labour's candidate will go up against those from other parties in the metro mayor election next May.

Carl Cashman, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Knowsley, is the only other politician to have stated his intention to run as a candidate to be the first mayor of the Liverpool City Region.