Metro mayors fire devolution warning to Starmer

Metro Mayors Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham urge Labour leader Keir Starmer to fully commit to devolution once in Government and ‘do levelling up properly’. Tony McDonough reports

The Heath
Metro Mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram at The Heath in Runcorn


Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester metro mayors, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, have told Keir Starmer a Labour Government must fully commit to devolution.

Addressing an audience of business leaders, organisations and political leaders at The Heath Business and Technical Park in Runcorn, the mayors warned Mr Starmer they would not stay quiet if he didn’t give more autonomy, and cash, to the regions.

Although Labour is still in opposition, opinion polls strongly suggest Mr Starmer will be the next Prime Minister with a hefty majority. However, he has already indicated the state of the public finances would inhibit any initial large-scale spending.

But, following more than a decade of austerity, Mr Rotheram and Mr Burnham said the north was starved of investment and this would have to change if it is to fulfil its economic potential.

Mr Rotheram said his message to Sir Keir would be: “Do levelling up properly or scrap the whole thing.”

He accused the current Conservative Government of “kidding people that areas are being levelled up”, adding that there is still a massive bias towards the south of the country.

The potential for areas such as Liverpool and Manchester is huge, he explained, while London has been allowed to “become the epicentre of everything for the country”.

“If you take London out the equation, then this country is a very, very poor country. In fact, if we were to join the US, we would be the 51st richest state. That’s how poor it is,” he added.

Mr Burnham added: “After the May elections, 90% of the north will have a mayor and a combined authority. 90% is a very different picture to the one that faced the last incoming Labour government, so they’ve got to go with it.”

And in a warning shot to Mr Starmer, he added: “I’m going to be honest and say it, you know, I can see myself potentially being at odds with them if anything different happens.”

The Metro Mayors were speaking at an Audience With event at The Heath to discuss their recently published book Head North: A Rallying Cry for a More Equal Britain. They are both standing for re-election on May 2.

During the evening guests heard a video message from Lord Heseltine, regarded as the key figure who was instrumental in beginning the regeneration of Liverpool in the wake of the 1981 Toxteth riots.

The former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister was also dubbed the ‘Minister for Merseyside’ and has said that his work in the city ranks as his greatest achievement. He was subsequently made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in 2012.

Lord Heseltine said he was privileged to play a role in David Cameron’s Government to transform the situation through the introduction of conurbation authorities with directly elected Mayors.

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He added: “What is clear is that we are on that journey and the signposts today are all pointing in the right direction. I wish you well.”

John Lewis, boss of The Heath owner SOG, said Mr Rotheram and Mr Burnham have had to lead their city regions through a tumultuous period, which included COVID, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, interest rate and inflation rises and an energy crisis.

He added: “What they have achieved to date is truly remarkable but imagine what could be achieved with a few quieter years, so we can see their visions grow and benefit us without such disruptions?” 

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