I spent seven years in Parliament, all of which I endured in opposition. The House of Commons is a hard place to be if you can’t enact your legislative programme.
So when the opportunity came to stand for election as the Liverpool city region’s first metro mayor, I jumped at the chance to work to transform the area I come from for the better, and to leave behind the glacial pace of change in Westminster.
And that is one of biggest differences to life as an MP – as the metro mayor I can influence policy and make change happen much more directly. And I have found that government has largely been willing to listen.
We live in the most politically centralised democracy in the western world and have the most geographically unbalanced economy in Europe. Little wonder then that so many feel disconnected from Whitehall and Westminster.
Devolution is a genuine game changer for us in the Liverpool City Region. It gives us a platform to make decisions locally and to effect transformational change.
We have made tremendous progress over the last year, on a broad range of fronts. Much of it has been on the hard, day-to-day work of building the foundations for projects that will really start to deliver over the next two or three years.
For example, two of our key assets in the city region are the Hartree Super Computer - the most sophisticated in the country for industrial R&D - and the GTT fibre optic cable, linking the UK to North America. I want to link these assets to create an ultra-fast, full-fibre network for the whole city region, making it the most digitally connected in the country. Specialist consultants are currently working on a plan to show how we can make that happen.
But perhaps the most exciting project concerns harnessing the power of the River Mersey - providing clean, plentiful, predictable green energy for generations to come. Combining this with a highly-connected city region would make the Liverpool City Region the UK’s renewable energy coast and the digital gateway to the fourth industrial revolution, perfectly placed to capitalise on the new industries based on the analysis and use of big data.
We have made tremendous progress on the Mersey Tidal Power Project. We have set up a special purpose vehicle to deliver it, and appointed an energy industry expert in Brent Cheshire, former chairman of Dong Energy, which delivered the pioneering Burbo Bank wind farm. We expect a skeleton business case in June. The shadow shancellor John McDonnell has promised to back the scheme should Labour gain power and we are working hard to lobby the current government for their support.
But in addition to future transformational plans, we are proud of our more immediate successes, such as securing £460m of funding to enable us to purchase an entirely new fleet of trains, which will be owned by the city region, and make the Merseyrail network the most advanced in the country.
Being a metro mayor is not without its challenges. Clearly we have to move to a new space where our constituent local authorities work ever more collaboratively and not in competition, as may have been the case in the past. My colleagues on the combined authority have embraced this challenge and while we may robustly share our views on occasion, we are all committed to moving the city region in the right direction.
In the same vein, we have seen a new type of politics nationally, with the metro mayors and the mayor of London coming together to speak to government with one voice, on issues such as housing and the contribution made by international students.
The future of our city region will be predicated on fairness and equality of opportunity for all. We will boost our economy while ensuring that growth is inclusive and leaves no individual or community behind.
We want to be a modern, self-confident, globally ambitious city region, with fairness and social justice at its heart, which others measure themselves against and aspire to be. And by letting us take our own decisions, devolution gives us the opportunity to make that happen.