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Mersey partners ditch the feuding in 'city-region' deal; No 10 signing hailed as a 'landmark day'.

Byline: BY ROB MERRICK Political Correspondent

LONG-STANDING political rivalries were declared dead as Gordon Brown officially created the Liverpool "city-region" at a Downing Street ceremony yesterday.

Leaders from different boroughs and parties said the agreement - bringing together Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton councils - meant they would no longer be "jostling for position".

One said, off the record, that the various authorities would not fight among themselves in the hunt for extra government cash and favours.

And they pointed to the breathtaking "Ocean Gateway" scheme, to transform both the Liverpool and Wirral waterfronts, as a prime example of why the partnership was needed.

The leaders were speaking after the signing of the "multi-area agreement" (MAA), which will allow the councils to pool budgets to provide more muscle to deliver big improvements in job creation, skills and training. It also enters the Liverpool city-region in the race for extra powers over transport, housebuilding and regeneration.

Only two of around 10 areas will be picked to pioneer that next devolution drive.

Mr Brown put his personal signature on the document - alongside that of Cllr Ron Round, the leader of Knowsley Council - to emphasise the importance No 10 attaches to the MAA.

Cllr Round will be the chairman of a cross-boundary "Cabinet" of leading councillors, in the biggest shake-up in local decision-making since the 1974 reorganisation of town halls.

Speaking at No 10, Wallasey MP Angela Eagle, the Treasury minister responsible for economic development, said: "Our area is pioneering a new form of crossborder co-operation in their economic interest.

"Instead of being rivals and jostling for position, they will be working together in order to make much faster progress in economic development. It is the best chance of bringing prosperity."

That message was echoed by Cllr Warren Bradley, Liverpool's Liberal Democrat leader, who said: "This is a landmark day and the start of something special.

"Nobody thought we would get together and collaborate in the way we have. It means that good practice in St Helens, or Wirral, or Knowsley, can be introduced across the city-region."

Pointing to the planned pounds 10bn regeneration of both sides of the Mersey, including the derelict Central Docks, Cllr Bradley said: "It is a prime example of why we need to work together."

And Halton Labour MP Derek Twigg said: "Half the people in Halton are from Merseyside. By pulling together, we can make the best use of our resources and infrastructure."

The first task is to set up an Employment and Skills Board with major employers, to tackle the long-term jobless problem that has left almost 175,000 people on out-of-work benefits across the city-region.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears is demanding evidence of progress from all ten MAA areas within 12 months, telling the Liverpool delegation: "There are no excuses."

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The new city-region agreement means different boroughs will no longer be 'jostling for pole position' Picture: JOHNNY GREEN; Angela Eagle MP
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 13, 2009
Words:489
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