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No DCLG action over lack of city region deputy mayor

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The Department for Communities & Local Government will not intervene over the failure of Liverpool City Region CA mayor Steve Rotheram (Lab) to fulfil his statutory duty to appoint a deputy mayor, LGC has learned.

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 requires regional mayors to appoint a member of the combined authority’s cabinet - which is made of up of local council leaders - as a deputy to act in their place if required, or if the office of mayor becomes vacant.

In June a spokesman for Mr Rotheram told LGC that an appointment was imminent and said the delay was due to a lack of agreement among members over who, and how many, people would be co-opted to the combined authority in a non-voting, advisory capacity.

However, more than six months after Mr Rotheram’s landslide victory in May, a deputy appointment is yet to be made and questions have been raised over whether the combined authority is equipped to implement plans for the region.

When LGC asked whether DCLG would take action over the mayor’s failure to meet the legal requirement, a spokesperson said: “it is the responsibility of the mayor to do this. Where this does not happen, it should be raised with the combined authority.”

Mr Rotheram’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Centre for Public Scrutiny director Ed Hammond told LGC that it was “obviously important” that formal statutory combined authority roles are occupied.

He added: “It is vital for city regions to get up to strength and get on with the business of implementing what has been agreed with government under the devolution deal.

“It is important that political leadership is in place. It is naturally in [the combined authority’s] interest to ensure they proceed swiftly with the appointment.”

Mr Hammond said that Mr Rotheram may have struggled to raise his public profile in a region which already has a high-profile city mayor in Joe Anderson (Lab), particularly as the general election and the summer parliamentary recess followed soon after the mayoral election.

But he warned that he could face more questions on his failure to appoint a deputy if his public profile increases.

Leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group on Liverpool City Council Richard Kemp said he believed the lack of an appointment was due to Mr Rotheram “attempting to balance” factions within the local Labour Party.

He also said the failure to appoint a permanent combined authority chief executive meant it lacked the leadership capacity to implement the mayor’s vision.

“The regional mayor needs to up his game,” Cllr Kemp added.

Mr Rotheram was involved in a public spat in June with Mr Anderson, who he beat to the city region mayoral nomination, after Frank Rogers, who is the combined authority’s interim head of paid service and chief executive of Merseytravel, turned down a request from Mr Anderson for a private meeting.

Mr Anderson’s deputy Ann O’Byrne now attends meetings of the combined authority on his behalf.

Earlier this month Mr Rotheram set out a series of policies framed as setting out the need for “a step-change in ambition and economic development”.

These include starting discussions on how fire and rescue, waste services and the powers of the police and crime commissioner can be integrated into the combined authority structure.

Mr Rotheram also announced the appointment of former chair of Danish firm Dong Energy, Brent Cheshire, to put together a business case for a renewable energy project in the Mersey.

He also vowed to lobby the government for funding to boost apprenticeships and housebuilding, with a pledge to create 25,000 homes before 2022.

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