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Northern leaders and Secretary of State, Michael Gove, to discuss next stage of North's Levelling Up in Liverpool

BOTH political and business leaders from across the North will meet in the Liverpool City Region next month to discuss the next step in the North's levelling up. They will be joined by business, public sector and community representatives from across the North and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.

With the Government's Levelling Up White Paper highly anticipated, they will discuss how the North can work together and with Government to make sure levelling up maximises the North's potential to grow an inclusive, productive, sustainable economy that works for everyone, while also driving the UK's transition to Net Zero and tackling health inequalities through innovation.

The Convention of the North with NP11 will take place at eco-building The Spine in Liverpool's Knowledge Quarter, recently named the UK's healthiest building, on Tuesday, 8 February 2022.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:- "Next month's Convention of the North will be a unique opportunity for community, business and political leaders to come together to make sense of what exactly 'levelling up' is, and work out an action plan to help make it a reality. Levelling up has to be about more than just big spending announcements and shiny infrastructure projects. To mean anything, levelling up has tackle long standing structural inequalities that exist between North and South. From healthcare and job prospects, to transport and infrastructure spending people's lives can be radically different based on where they happen to be born. This is not an issue of party politics but one of fairness and social justice. It is fantastic to welcome leaders from across the country to the Liverpool City Region, but let me be clear: this is not designed to be a talking shop. I want this to deliver concrete plans for improving the lives of the nearly 16m people who call the North home. The success of the UK, not only in the present but for generations to come is dependent on a strong North. This is our chance to make it happen."

Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the NP11 group of 11 Northern local enterprise partnerships, said:- "The Convention of the North with NP11 in 2019 was hugely important because it was the 1st commitment to work across partners to realise the North's full potential. With the UK at a critical moment, we hope this event will build on its successes and I look forward to a productive, challenging, inspiring and open conversation that will help us collectively turn potential into delivery. The 2 plus years since the last Convention have seen unprecedented change across the North and globally. Despite the challenges we face, there are also many causes for optimism. The North has the skills, drive and innovation to benefit the whole UK by leading the fourth industrial revolution, focusing on green jobs and health innovation. As well as levelling up our powerhouse northern Region, this will deliver on the Government's vision for a competitive Global Britain."

Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council and Chair of Convention of the North, said:- "The Convention of the North will be a great opportunity to bring civic, business, and cultural leaders from the North together to work with Government to better understand how Levelling Up will ensure that the economic and social potential of the North is unlocked. The forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper could be a landmark occasion for the millions of people who call the North home. It is an opportunity for Government to break down barriers and make sure our Region is equipped to play a leading role in developing skills, modernising infrastructure, building and growing a sustainable and green economy and achieving our Net Zero ambitions. Our Cities, Towns, and Villages have so much to offer, but it is by only working together, in collaboration with Government, that we will ensure we are all getting the most from Levelling Up and provide lasting and meaningful change for the North that provides opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they live. We need to jointly reset the relationship and make a commitment to change."

As well as bringing together northern political leaders, business, and Government to agree actions on how best to level up the North, the Convention will provide a platform for young people, community representatives and leading thinkers to discuss how levelling up can best deliver for the North.

The event will comprise high impact plenary sessions, alongside focused discussions on those areas that will make the biggest difference to the North's future; the:- "5 Game changers for the North," as set out in a report published by the Convention of the North and NP11, back in October 2021.

The game changers are those areas where collaboration across the North and with Government can grow an inclusive economy that delivers for the North and the country, while also tackling the health inequalities that have been laid bare by Covid19:-

Leading the Green Industrial Revolution.

Closing the healthy life expectancy gap between the North and South through innovation.

Closing the education and skills gap.

Improving connectivity in Towns and Cities in the North.

Increasing private and public investment in R&D spending in the North.

Hosted by Council leaders, Metro Mayors and the North's 11 LEP Chairs, the Convention will be held at:- The Spine, Paddington Village, Liverpool's 1st Grade A office building for more than a decade. Designed according to the scientific and medical research principles established in the international WELL Building Standard, the building is on track to be one of the healthiest workspaces for mental health and physical wellbeing in the UK. It is a clear example of the North's commitment to health innovation, as well as its ability to lead the way on Net Zero. The event has been organised by the NP11, Culture Liverpool, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority on behalth of the Convention for the North.

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Unveils Budget Proposals

THE Liverpool City Region Combined Authority will be asked to approve its budget for 2022/23 at its meeting on 21 January 2022. Detailing its spending for the year ahead, the budget is focused on delivering Mayoral priorities, with an emphasis on securing the City Region's economic recovery by prioritising investment in transport, infrastructure, skills and environment.

The budget proposals include an ambitious ₤241 million capital funding programme, including:- completion of the procurement of a brand new fleet of state of the art trains, as part of Mayor Steve Rotheram's plans to introduce a London style transport system. The budget also details investment to progress the programme for bus reform, publishing a Bus Services Improvement Plan, outlining ambitious plans to provide services that are more frequent, reliable, and affordable.

The budget also includes ongoing investment in infrastructure projects that will help boost economic recovery, including:- LCR Connect, which is creating a 212km ultrafast digital network for the City Region, COVID recovery initiatives, such as the next stage of the Future Innovation Fund, and flagships schemes such as the Shakespeare North Playhouse.

The importance of skills in the City Region's economic recovery is reflected in a focus on adult education, which sets out the Combined Authority's priorities for the coming year, ensuring that all of the City Region's residents have the opportunity to develop the skills they need.

Included in the budget document is a proposal to freeze the mayoral precept that for the 3rd year in a row.

The impact of Covid19 on the City Region's finances, however, means that modest increases are proposed to the Transport Levy paid by the Region's 6 local Authorities, and to Mersey Tunnels tolls, as announced last week.

The decision to freeze the Regional precept is intended to avoid putting extra short term financial pressure on residents who are struggling due to the COVID Pandemic. 95% of households in the City Region will continue to pay no more than 32p a week.

The Transport Levy was frozen for 2021 / 2022, however higher inflation and demographic pressures mean that this position is not sustainable and therefore a 2% increase to the levy, from ₤97.4m to ₤99.35m is proposed.

The budget also includes a proposed increase to tunnel tolls for 2022/2023 with rates set to rise for the 1st time in five years, in response to increasing public sector budget pressures and increasing maintenance costs.

While there will still be a discount for Liverpool City Region residents using the Fast Tag or T-Flow prepayment systems, the cost of a single crossing is set to rise by 20p for car drivers from April 1, if the proposals are approved at this month's Combined Authority meeting.

The rate change means many motorists will still be paying a full ₤1.10 less than the maximum amount authorised by the Tunnels Act, and only same toll as tunnels users in 2004 despite inflation since then being 76%.

Under the changes, most tunnel users will continue to benefit from the discounted toll available to Liverpool City Region residents; with around 60,000 regular daily prepaid Fast Tag or T-Flow users taking advantage of the reductions.

The budget paper also includes a proposal to introduce a 1 off admin fee, expected to be no more than ₤10, for people applying for a concessionary travel pass. Residents in receipt of Universal Credit would be exempt from the fee. The Merseytravel concessionary travel scheme is one of the most generous in the country and entitles Merseyside residents to free train and bus travel from the age of 60, seven years before passes are available under the national scheme.

Speaking about the budget, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:- "Covid19 has had a huge impact on everyone's finances over the past two years and the Combined Authority is not immune to that. The costs of keeping our Region running, supporting the local economy through the worst of the Pandemic and investing to kick start our recovery have been significant and will continue to be felt for some time. The Government's failure to deliver its promise of 'whatever it takes' in funding support has tied our hands financially. It means that difficult decisions need to be taken to keep vital public services running while also investing for the future. Over the last year and a ˝, we have provided more than ₤44m of support to over 4,000 businesses, keeping many afloat and safeguarding many, many thousands of local jobs. We distributed millions to small community groups who helped support their neighbours through the height of lockdown. We have funded transformative projects in every single part of our Region, and launched a ₤150m COVID Recovery Fund to give the local economy a springboard to bounce back. Given the financial pressures the Pandemic has forced on us, and the moral duty we have to tackle the climate emergency, we have been forced to make some difficult decisions. In doing so, we have been able to ensure that we can continue to invest in growing our Region, attracting more well paid jobs and investment, and building the London style transport network local people deserve."

The Mersey Tunnels are not part of the national road network and receive no Government funding to support their operation and upkeep. The loans originally taken out to fund the tunnels will not be paid off until 2048, with this money not only relating to the building of the tunnels but also to their maintenance and improvement. The payments on these loans are also fixed, with penalties incurred for paying them off early.

Millions of pounds are spent each year on running and maintaining the Queensway and Kingsway tunnels, which are over 80 and 50 years old respectively. Their electricity costs more than ₤1m a year.

The increase in tolls; which have been reduced or frozen for most users since 2017 - comes as the Combined Authority, like most local Government organisations, continues to feel the financial impact of supporting local communities through the worst of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The change in toll fee will also help cover the shortfall in revenues faced due to a reduction in traffic compared to pre-Pandemic levels. It will also enable the Combined Authority to continue to invest in supporting key public transport services for the benefit of the Liverpool City Region's 1.6m residents.

The Liverpool City Region has set an ambitious target to achieve net zero by 2040 at the latest; a decade ahead of national targets; to tackle poor air quality locally and the global climate emergency. As part of this effort, the proposed changes include setting aside ₤500,000 to reduce tolls paid by buses; to support bus operators in cutting fares for cross Mersey services and encourage people to choose public transport for cross river journeys.

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