Last night I attended and supported the ceremony that promoted the Liverpool Association of Chartered Accountants to the Freedom roll of the City Council. It gave me cause for thought about how enterprise had shaped our city from before the time 142 years ago when they were formed and how the lack of enterprise was continuing to shape our city now.
142 years ago Liverpool was, in many ways in its prime. It was the second port of the British Empire, an Empire on which the sun never set. The major insurance companies were based in Liverpool, not London. The major Banks were based in Liverpool not London, the major shipping companies were based in Liverpool not Southampton.
We can still see that wealth around us today. Our Municipal buildings, our museums our UNESCO World Heritage site and our magnificent Town Hall all date back to that world building position. Some of you may recall that I went to Mexico on a trade mission last year and made contact with the biggest chain store in the Country called Liverpool. Why? Because when that company was established all its imports from Europe came in crates marked From the Port of Liverpool. And that was post WWII.
So Liverpool created tremendous wealth, tremendous pride and a terrific reputation. Even today some commodities are traded on ‘Liverpool terms’ even though those products never now enter our city. It seems to me that the key to success then was local, local businesses, employing local people to do local and national/international things all using their spending power locally. It was a virtuous circle for many but not all the people of Liverpool. The sad fact was that all that wealth did not benefit the casual workers, those living 14 to a room in disgusting courts, the poor who died very young within yards of where the rich lived very well.
So it’s true that Liverpool’s actions in setting up an accountants association led to the formation of a national body but exactly the same can be said of the NSPCC, CAB and Age concern where local people led the way in tackling immense social problems.
So what we need is benevolent, local capitalism. We need to recreate the situation whereby local people do set up local businesses to do local things and use their profits and earnings created locally. But it is a lot more difficult now.
Let’s just look at the world of finance. Liverpool now has no indigenous building society. It used to have two the Liverpool Building Society and the Merseyside Building Society. They were bought up by other societies and are now effectively part of a Spanish Bank Santander. Go along to Liverpool 1 which is one of the best new shopping centres built in this country for many years. How many small local businesses are there in L1? None with a just a few on the periphery in other buildings. Just down from the Town Hall at 4, Water Street you will find Martins Bank Buildings which used to be the HQ of Martins Bank swallowed up decades ago by one of the big 4 banks (can anyone remind me which?
So most of the commercial decisions, about what to sell, how to sell it, what to finance, who to support, what to make; are made in other places, in other cities and often in other Countries.
That is why I believe that we should establish a Liverpool Enterprise and Finance Commission to look at how we can do things locally to provide places to do business and premises both retail and commercial in which to do them. I think a lot of local people would make a modest investment in a Liverpool Capital Bond to finance capital activity and a Revenue Bond to provide venture capital. I think that many of our successful business people, accountants, lawyers and academics would be prepared to act as ‘business angels’ providing real time advice to local businesses and I believe that we could do much more to harness the creativity of all those students who come here but are unable to stay because we do not have enough mechanisms in place to use their talents.
In a way that was my challenge to the accountants last night. Don’t just look to the past glorious though it may be. Do the right things now in a joined up way and we could be establishing our glorious future.