Questions were asked a recent Southport Area Committee meeting at the Town Hall about the "Liverpool City Region". There's a lot of misunderstanding about this subject, not helped by some lightweight reporting in the local Southport media and ill-informed campaigning.

Facts: the five councils that make up Merseyside (Sefton, St Helens, Wirral, Liverpool and Knowsley) will NOT be sharing or pooling their money. Sefton will get its own government grant and raise and keep its own council tax cash just as it has always done.

We are NOT going to be taken over by Liverpool or anyone else. Sefton stays exactly as it is. No boundary changes. We keep our independence as a borough, running our own services just as before. No change.

So what's it all about than ? The government wants councils to work more closely together, across local authority boundaries that are just lines on a map. There's nothing new about this, of course. For years the leaders and chief executives of all the Merseyside councils have been meeting regularly to discuss matters of common interest. We think this works OK as it is and there's really no need for any change.

But the government requires these informal arrangements to be formalised under what it calls its "City Region" programme. It's happening all over the country, not just here. e.g. Manchester City Region. It means having "Cabinet meetings" rather than informal discussions. Each council leader would concentrate on particular issues that cross artificial council boundaries e.g. regional roads and transport

Question: If the existing informal liasion meetings work OK, why change ? Why don't the councils tell the government they are just not interested ?

The answer is that the government has said it will loosen its London grip on cash spending decisions and allow these "City Region" cabinets more power to influence decisions that are now taken in Whitehall, including spending priorities. If you believe that it's better to have regional decisions taken by local people who live in the area rather than by remote folk who live 200 miles away in London, then this makes sense.

But the "Liverpool City Region" (not a name we would choose but we are stuck with it) does not just cover Merseyside. It extends to the wider economic and travel-to-work areas of West Lancashire, Lancashire, Warrington etc. They are part of the plan.

Sefton and Lancashire working more closely formally together is an example of what is planned - that must be a positive opportunity, not a threat, for us in Southport.

Liberal Democrats have taken the initiative to take advantage of this feature and already have set up councillor and chief executive meetings with West Lancs, with very positive signs. This really does make sense. A better road to Ormskirk hospital, for example, cannot be achieved without Lancashire co-operation and there are important planning and employment issues that we should be working on more closely together.

Bluntly, to refuse to take part in this "City Region" would mean Southport losing out. That's the practical and pragmatic decision. But these are early days. We shall be very watchful and closely monitoring what goes on and shaping the detail.

From talks already between the leaders of the Merseyside councils it is reassuring to learn that there will not be a costly new bureaucracy, which is always a natural fear when these kind of changes are imposed by the government.

As ever there are negative risks and positives, but the Lancashire opportunity is one that it would be wrong not to develop. Not joining would leave us isolated, lose our voice in regional decision-taking and weaken our position to bid for extra government money and support for important Southport improvement projects.

More than £200 million has been invested in Southport in recent years, most of it coming from effective close working with government bodies, funding organisations and quangos of all kinds... not from the pockets of local council taxpayers.

The government minister in charge of the "City Region" project said at a Parliamentary Select Committee that it was "genuinely" about "drawing powers down from Whitehall" and "certainly not up from the local level." She explained that it was a "system for saying locally what really matters...and get more freedom to do that."

She was answering challenging and probing questions on the subject from Southport's Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh about local council powers possibly being "sucked upwards". The minister replied: "That is absolutely the reverse of what we want to see happen." We shall hold the government to that promise.

Final point: In the current economic position, the "City Region" programme is unlikely to be in the forefront of government priorities and may turn out to be a damp squib. A general election, which will have to take place either this year or next, could change everything anyway.