In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Burnham said Mr Starmer’s comments were a “major shortcoming” for Labour and “completely missed the point”. Mr Starmer told the paper there would be no obligation for city regions to set up as new, independent authorities if they don’t want to, if they simply wanted to continue with existing powers. Under the EU’s Regional Policy, councils would continue to hold the power to agree joint schemes with other local authorities and participate in national schemes. At the same time, they could decide to set up their own separate organisations. However, Mr Starmer said a council wanted to run a region separately wouldn’t be obliged to do so. If it did, only the common authorities would have to pay for its functions.
In the Guardian interview, Mr Burnham said: “People in Merseyside, or the North-West or East Anglia or, for that matter, might think, ‘Why shouldn’t I have an independent authority, and if that doesn’t interest me, why can’t I just do what I want?’”
He said: “I think Keir Starmer has let down the people who elected him to a job of this importance and this importance is representing us.”
Mr Burnham was reacting to Mr Starmer’s attempt to quell rumours that Labour would instead set up metropolitan government councils, which would allow regions to form their own authorities and reap the benefits of both centrally-regulated spending and control of own budgets.
He also voiced concerns that Labour was making too big a priority of having a local people’s vote to choose a prime minister. The party would announce its leadership contest timetable today.
“We have been going about it too much on this national question of doing this local people’s vote. And the fact is in this election I’ve got to demonstrate that I am able to take charge of the party and deliver the Labour plan. And as I’ve said about Brexit, what we need to do is clarify things here, and I think we’re missing an opportunity.”
The Guardian says Mr Burnham’s proposals to alter the party’s Constitution are more radical than Mr Starmer’s ideas because they would “shake up how the party organises and elects its leaders”.
Mr Burnham said he does not agree with Mr Starmer that new regions should not be set up – but said Labour is heading in the wrong direction by focussing on local people’s votes over governance.