Core Cities monthly update – August 2020

Which city is responding best to the climate emergency? At the start of July, Climate Emergency Manchester coordinated a comparison of seven of the UK’s Core Cities, showing that no one local authority has all the answers. This is not a one-off analysis. Core Cities 2 will appear in October, scrutinising new developments and increasing our coverage to include Newcastle, Glasgow and Leeds. For those who cannot possibly wait that long, we will provide a short update each month. I know: we spoil you.

Even in this strange year, August is a month of fewer council meetings and almost no standing committees. Nevertheless, in the last days of July, a number of local authorities published their initial recovery plans – or, in some cases, a recovery brochure. Certainly, this is the best way to describe Liverpool City Region’s ‘Building Back Better’. This nicely formatted PDF appeared on 26 July, accompanied by press releases assuring us that plans for a green recovery lay within.

It’s certainly not the most turgid local government document. It’s light on (if not free of) jargon and in the introductory photo Metro mayor Steve Rotheram wears a fiercely determined eyes-on camera look that could be called ‘red steel’. There is a vision of a future city-region, but the commitments to climate underwhelm. A couple of points struck us as significant.

What is the role of a combined authority? How much power does a metro mayor actually have, particularly in regards to measures to reduce emissions? The Metro Mayor is well placed to pull together a ‘prospectus’ and pitch to central government. Combined Authority figures can help craft and then voice a narrative (and Liverpool’s narrative is all about hard-earned regeneration that must not be imperilled). But beyond showcasing projects and convening stakeholders, it is not clear from briefings such as these what levers Mayor Steve can actually pull.

A ‘Green Recovery’ is a stated principle, but not the top priority – in this 53-page document, ‘Green Recovery’ gets the graveyard slot, pp.50-53. Green and low carbon bring up the rear, after earlier sections – full of vim – on shovel-ready projects and economic recovery. Indeed, by the time we get to green it rather feels as if the authors have run out of steam. The measures set out are largely a ‘bother list’ of things to nag / scold / lobby central government about. As we have seen so many times before, when it comes to climate there is a lot of lip service and little action

A desire for more devolution, and locally-led recovery ‘Building Back Better’ reads as a call for building back with more devolution for Liverpool City Region. “We are ready to play our full part and just need the tools to get on and do the job”, pleads Steve on p1. ‘Tools’ here means money (millions!), but also more powers. There is much to welcome in this vein: the devolution of the skills budget to create green jobs, for example. The community wealth-building of CLES gets a mention and it is encouraging to see a vision of recovery which is not just about propping up the big shiny city centre. There is a pleasing confidence in and commitment to other town centres and nodes (e.g. Prescot). But what are the next steps? A brochure is always just a starting point. If I want to place an order from this particular catalogue, if I like the look of an item on this aspirational menu… how long will I wait for it to arrive?

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