Rivals unite to lobby for northern assembly

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The Independent Online
A unique experiment is taking place in the North-west which could lead to an entirely new form of government.

Last week, local authority and business leaders met under the auspices of the North-west Partnership to agree to submit a document to government seeking the creation of an assembly which would be part elected and part appointed by business, big and small, and other local interests such as educational institutions and trade unions.

The document will be sent in at the end of this week backed by many local interests.

The new body would have 70 per cent elected representatives and 30 per cent appointed. While, in the North-east, business has been opposed to the idea of an elected assembly, in the North-west, business has been one of the main driving forces. Terry Thomas, the recently ennobled managing director of the Co-op Bank and chairman of the partnership said: "We are going to run things in an entirely different way and it will be very popular." We will be able to do things as a region which we just could not at the moment." He cites the plethora of local initiatives and agencies who "constantly fight among themselves and try to empire build".

Mr Thomas reckons that the co-ordination of the assembly will allow the region "to concentrate on, say, three priorities in a year and ensure that they are successful".

While it has been a considerable achievement to get consensus across the sectors, it has been even a greater one to unite Manchester and Liverpool in the campaign for the assembly. The hatchet has been buried but the rivalries remain.

Frank Prendergast, the leader of Liverpool City Council said, "at the meeting we joked that the only two places the assembly would not be located were Manchester and Liverpool."

In fact, Mr Thomas says that the row over the development of Manchester airport's second runway, while Liverpool's has spare capacity, is the sort of issue which would be avoided with a regional assembly: "... it will ensure that decisions are taken for the benefit of the whole region ...

"It will be possible to knock heads together."

He is amazed at the progress that the issue of regional government has made and the way it has united local interests: "Two years ago I would have said it was impossible."