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Communities and Local Government
Monday 12 January 2009 14:01

Communities and Local Government (North West)

New council partnership to get Merseyisde fit for upturn

Merseyside will be given more local autonomy to deliver a home-grown economic plan with jobs and skills priorities when an historic new council partnership contract is signed by the Prime Minister and council leaders at Downing Street today (Monday 12th January).

The new council partnership, known as the 'Liverpool city-region' Multi-Area Agreement (MAA) - made up of Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens, Wirral, Sefton and Halton councils - will transfer from central government greater responsibilities in more than 10 areas covering employment, skills, transport, regeneration, housing and planning.

Many people live, commute and work across council boundaries and the Liverpool city-region economy is no different.

The Liverpool city-region MAA has agreed to take on responsibility for developing a bespoke and co-ordinated cross-council strategy to strengthen their economy so they are well placed to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.

As a result, over the next decade Liverpool city-region aims come through the downturn helping 9,000 people off benefits by 2010, grow job seeker allowance claimants entering employment to 40% (up 4%). It will also help raise the qualifications of thousands of local people boosting skills by 8-10%.

The Multi Area Agreement will devolve and deliver:

* More freedom to direct investment as needed;
* Delivering new skills training that properly reflect the local job market;
* Targeted help to get people off benefit;
* Preparation for the upturn, when it comes;
* To improve the overall well-being of local communities.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:

"Nearly all of us work and live across council boundaries, which means delivering local economic growth needs a team effort.

"Today's 'Liverpool city-region' Multi-Area Agreement will mean Merseyside's seven councils will no longer have to work alone on their economy, they will work from the same blueprint with more devolved powers to deliver jobs, training, welfare support and economic resilience.

"I believe it is vital that we continue to give local government the powers they need to support their communities - they know their people and area best and they can create the right conditions to support and improve them."

Working together, the Liverpool city-region partners will tackle the biggest challenges facing Merseyside, including the local economy, transport, housing and environment. The first task will be to introduce locally tailored solutions to help safeguard local jobs, improve the skills of local people and support businesses to continue striving for a thriving international city region by 2020.

The employment priority will be to bring Incapacity Benefit claimants down under 100,000 by helping almost 9,000 people through a new 'Fit For Work' plan that will see specially trained advisers step in to help people who are in danger of falling out of work because of minor health conditions or impairments.

The welfare support priority will tailor its Flexible New Deal programme to Merseyside so it is designed with local needs in mind and help them improve their skills and get jobs including through a universal offer of self employment provision. There will be two targets - to raise the average percentage for all job seeker allowance claimants entering employment to 40% (up 4%) and raise the number of 18-24 year old JSA claimants entering work to 35% (up 6%).

The skills priority will introduce new ways of working including a new Employment and Skills Board that will give employers a prominent role in local decision-making. 77,000 more residents will be trained to at least NVQ Level 2 (equivalent to five GCSEs) and a further 54,000 to NVQ Level 3 (A level standard) by 2012.

Cllr Ron Round, Leader of Knowsley Council and Chair of the Liverpool City Region Cabinet said:

"The biggest and most important challenges facing the Liverpool City Region are common to all the local authority areas, so it makes absolute sense that we should share our resources and expertise to work towards a solution that is right for the whole city region.

"In these uncertain economic times, we all recognise the need to support local businesses and help local people find and retain employment. We don't just want to 'survive' the downturn - we want to thrive. We can achieve that by working together to get people into employment and raise the skills levels of our citizens over the coming years to meet the future needs of business in the area."

Today's event is the culmination of a week of government activity which has seen the Prime Minister focused on the regional aspects of the downturn and action to help individuals and businesses in the face of current economic difficulties as well as long-term reforms for boosting skills and employment.

When the country last faced serious economic difficulty in the 80s and 90s councils didn't have the powers, skills or financial resources to respond. London alone stood out as the country's single economic powerhouse.

Over the last decade we have invested in regenerating our towns and cities which has created a regional renaissance of jobs and prosperity and because local leaders know their area best the government's devolution agenda has given more money, power and controls to councils up and down the country.

Hazel Blears will shortly begin a series of regional delivery workshops to see at ground level what difference devolved powers are making to local economies and look at where we can devolve more to support councils deliver greater prosperity.

Notes to Editor:

1. Liverpool City Region Multi Area Agreement includes: Liverpool City Council, Knowsley Borough Council, St Helens Borough Council, Wirral Borough Council, Sefton Borough Council, Halton Borough Council.

2. Two other agreements were signed today:

Leicester and Leicestershire's Multi Area Agreement includes: Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council, Blaby District Council, Charnwood Borough Council, Harborough District Council, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, Melton Borough Council, North West Leicestershire District Council, Oadby and Wigston Borough Council.

Pennine Lancashire's Multi Area Agreement includes: Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Burnley Borough Council, Hyndburn Borough Council, Pendle Borough Council, Ribble Valley Borough Council, Rossendale Borough Council.

3. The first tranche of Multi Area Agreements were signed in July 2008 by Tees Valley; Greater Manchester; South Yorkshire; Leeds City Region; Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH); Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole; and Tyne and Wear.

4. A third tranche will be signed later this year inluding:

West of England

* Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire

* Employment and skills, economic growth and competitiveness, transport, housing

Olympic Legacy

* Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest

* Employment and skills, housing, public realm

North Kent

* Dartford, Gravesham, Kent County, Medway, Swale

* Employment and skills, housing, transport

Birmingham

* Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Telford and Wrekin, Walsall, Wolverhampton

* Employment and skills

Hull

* East Riding of Yorkshire, Kingston upon Hull, North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire

* Skills and workless for young people aged 14-25 years

Fylde Coast

* Blackpool, Fylde, Wyre

* Identity of place, economic and business development, employment and skills, housing, transport and planning

Milton Keynes South Midlands

* Aylesbury Vale, Bedford Borough (from April 2009), Buckinghamshire County, Central Bedford (from April 2009), Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Luton, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Northamptonshire County, South Northampton, Wellingborough

* Economic development, transport

5. The Chancellor announced in the Pre-Budget Report that the Government intends to announce new 'MAA plus' agreements with at least two forerunner city-regions at Budget 2009. This will deliver even stronger integration of planning, housing, transport, regeneration, employment and skills responsibilities. New statutory arrangements for co-operation between local authorities will underpin this with key support from RDAs. The following areas will potentially be devolved:

* Increased statutory responsibility for strategic transport issues.

* A joint city-region/HCA board to direct housing and regeneration priorities.

* Formal powers for Employment and Skills Boards to influence provision.

* Integrated city-region planning with the Single Regional Strategy

* Addition financial flexibility over capital funding.

Media Inquiries: Barbara Phillips, COI News & PR North West. Tel 0161-952 4515

ISSUED ON BEHALF OF CLG BY COI NEWS AND PR

Client ref DCLG/NW/LOGOV/018/2009

COI ref 169454P

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