Visitors to Penny Lane from Jinan (China) and Kumamoto (Japan)
I strongly suspect that I would have become a Lib Dem councillor wherever I had chosen to live. Whether I would have stuck it for 32 years (and counting) is another matter.
There’s something about being a councillor in Liverpool which to me is very, very special and this has been brought home to me over the past few days when I have brought delegations to he City from China and Japan. These have come about because of my work as the International Spokesperson for UK local government.
I realised how good my job was when I saw my City through their eyes. They had of course come to look at government delivery topics. The Chinese delegation from Jinan Province were looking at how we deliver help to small and medium enterprises. The Japanese delegation from the city of Kumamoto and was looking at the way Liverpool promotes its tourism and culture agenda and how that leads into the creation of real and sustainable jobs. It was a particular pleasure to welcome the Kumamoto Mayor as I visited their city last year as part of a speaking and study tour arranged by the Japanese LGA. At one stage they got me to go into a hot thermal spring bath with no clothes on. That’s another story and I absolutely promise – NO PICTURES!
Both delegations had left some time for seeing the city more generally. In particular the Kumamoto delegation wanted to look at some of the cultural buildings as they possess some quality buildings of their own including the finest castle in Japan!
Some things they wanted to do differently. I was struck for example by the way that the Chinese delegation wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant. They arranged this themselves and the restaurant had prepared authentic Chinese food which was only marginally like the food westerners eat in the same restaurant. It was delicious. The Japanese however when I gave them a choice of a posh restaurant in town or the Dover on Penny Lane chose the pub with just a millisecond of thought. This is so often true with people wanting a Liverpool experience rather than going to a restaurant they could visit in their own country. The Dovey does well out of my foreign visitors!
But in all cases I was able to give them a huge choice of first class restaurants. Even near Penny Lane we could have walked to about 20 restaurants with cuisine form about 10 countries. This is a huge range of choice from people of both countries where external food opportunities are small and often only available in the biggest cities.
They all loved Penny Lane. As I know from my international work everyone knows Penny Lane. I joined them to have their pictures taken near one of our street signs. This took some time as they all wanted to be on the picture using their phone! In both cases one of the team found the eponymous song on their i-phone and listed to is as we meandered up the street.
Funnily however, it was my house that they were most interested in. I have often wondered what the inside of peoples homes look like when I go to other countries so I asked them if they would like to look at my home as we were in the area. Embarrassingly both delegations thought my home (which is only a terraced house) was huge by comparison to their own. The Japanese thought my home was beautiful and the Chinese could not believe that only two people live in it! Fortunately it was very tidy as Erica is away!!
But above all it was the scale of the buildings that amazed them. Listening to the Wow and seeing their faces as they went into the Anglican Cathedral. Wandering into the Albert Dock and seeing their surprise at how we keep and renovate old buildings rather than demolishing them. Their pleasure at seeing the refurbished Philharmonic and understanding how important the Concert Hall and its Orchestra are to the image of Liverpool. And of course they all really loved the Town Hall. The splendour of the Council Chamber where the Mayor of Kumamoto sat in the Lord Mayor’s Chair and decided he wanted a Town Hall just like it! The interest they had in our ways of Government both locally and nationally and the reflections that they had about how they would do some things differently as a result of their visit just made me very enthusiastic about their visits and made me vow to redouble my efforts to bring people here.
Too often we Scousers take our City for granted. We go past buildings every day which are of world quality. We have orchestras and museums which are of world quality. We put on events which are of World quality. And often we don’t even notice that they are there.
Of course Liverpool is a city with many social and economic problems which must be tackled. But one of the ways of tackling them is by improving our cultural offer to make more people want to live, work and visit here. We know that a good quality of life is one of the major determinants for students coming here (worth about £15,000 per year each) and businesses relocating here.
We know however that culture is not and should not be just for a moneyed elite. I heard yesterday about the work that the Philharmonic does in the community and know how many Liverpool people visit the Liverpool Museums and galleries every year.
Why would anyone want to be a councillor or live anywhere else? We are a worldwide known city which could be one of the greatest cities in the World. But we are a City without vision or direction. We stumble from one idea to another with no long term plan to take our city to the very top.
If we all got together there is nothing to stop Liverpool becoming great. All that stops us is small minds and petty politicking. The people of Liverpool must demand better of those of us that run their City on their behalf.