Sandwiched by devolution

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WIGAN could reap the benefits of being placed in the middle of two devolution deals with business leaders casting a keen eye on Merseyside.

Council leaders across Liverpool’s city region have this week agreed in principle to a deal similar to Greater Manchester’s for devolved powers.

It will mean Liverpool will also have elections in 2017 for an elected mayor, leaving Wigan sandwiched between two major players in the proposed Northern Powerhouse initiative.

The arrangement will be welcomed by town hall chiefs who made clear earlier this year the borough’s role within the Devo Manc deal would not close it off from potential business opportunities in Liverpool and Lancashire.

As part of the Wigan Works initiative - the borough’s plan to create 10,000 new jobs by 2025 - officers vowed to make best use of the borough’s “unique position” and transport links between Manchester and Liverpool to drive economic growth.

And in its business prospectus, deputy council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “Much is happening in and around Wigan to develop the economic and housing growth of the area. We have an unrivalled proximity to the North West’s key economies in Greater Manchester (GM), Merseyside, Cheshire and Lancashire.

“Like GM, the Liverpool city region and other areas in the NW have negotiated growth deals aimed at boosting the economy.

“The development of the Atlantic Gateway, linking the cities of Manchester and Liverpool, with Wigan at the geographical heart will be an important economic driver.

“It is essential we focus on our employment and residential role outside of GM in the wider region.”

The West Midlands has also agreed a similar arrangement.

Announcing the deals, Communities Secretary Greg Clark said they are “another significant step in the Government’s ambition for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine”.

The agreements will see local leaders handed new powers and each mayor will have power over things like transport budgets and strategic planning matters.

They will also be given the option of raising business rates.

Control over investment funds for the next 30 years is also being devolved.

Mr Clark said in a written parliamentary statement: “These agreements mark the next step in an ongoing process to devolve funding, responsibilities and powers from central government to the Liverpool City Region and West Midlands.

“I look forward to both areas continuing to hold discussions with government in the future, to build upon today’s agreements.”

Referring to Merseyside, Chancellor George Osborne said: “This revolutionary deal cements the area’s position as a gateway to the north, from North Wales all the way to Newcastle, and gives local people control over their own affairs for the first time.”