This area should be the heart of a vibrant city region
“Liverpool City Region needs to be ambitious and compare its performance to the very best places in Europe and beyond”. These are excellent words and I have certainly thought them but they are not mine. They are the opening words in a powerful and worrying report produced recently by Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most timely and important reports that I have ever seen this report “The state of Liverpool City Region report” is a must read for any decision maker in the City Region.
It must be read because it paints a very depressing picture of where we are in terms of our economic performance and, if read properly, shows us ways forward for moving our population on. It must be read now because we are about to embark on a devolution process which I believe is a make or break one.
Significantly it is produced by our two main universities working together. Our three universities, if we add in Liverpool Hope University are an intellectual powerhouse that we under use. When the Lib Dem manifesto for the May elections comes out at the start of April you will see numerous requests to the Unis:
• That they should establish a “think and do tank”;
• That they should work with the councils, Chambers of Commerce and UKTI to create effective mechanisms for both growing new businesses from university ideas and patents and putting top people into small business with the ability to expand; and
• That they use use their alumni contacts – especially those overseas to create strong links with the City Region to promote trade and commerce.
The sad fact is that we are starting from a very low base. We are top or are near the top of leagues that we should not feature in:
• We have a very high dependence on a declining number of public sector jobs
• Our new birth and death rates for new business is the highest in the Country
• We are third in the list of people with no qualifications.
At the same time we are bottom of the league tables that we would want to be top in:
• For high skills levels we are next to bottom
• Out jobs density is next to bottom
• Our Gross Value Added per capita is next to bottom and as a recent Office for National Statistics report showed is the only one to be declining.
We cannot underestimate the amount of catching up that we need to do to bring us up to the average of UK conurbations never mind making us top of the European or international ratings.
Some people might think that I am being a traitor to the city or making a political point. Think what you will. The fact is that unless we accept these facts and many, many others in the report and understand them we will continue to decline. Liverpool City Region needs to think big, aim to be the best and then put in place the mechanisms to deliver them then we are, as Corporal Jones would say, “Doomed, doomed, doomed!”
So how do we put in place the way forward?
Well we don’t start with what has been agreed for devolution to the City Region by the Government. We approached central government like one of Robert Burns timorous wee beasties and frankly got very little from them. £30 million per year extra cash is worth having but pretty meaningless in a region which has lost more than that this year alone to Government cuts.
The big achievement trumpeted is the ability to reregulate buses. Actually there are a number of reasons that this will not happen as we have seen in the North-East but even if it did would make little difference to the jobs situation in the City.
The sad fact is that there is little leading edge thought in either the six Councils or the LEP (Liverpool Enterprise Partnership). There has been little understanding of the scale of the issues and even less thought about positive ways forward. Our city region bodies, both public and private sector lack the intellectual resource to change things. That capacity needs to be put in place and I would respectfully suggest that our Universities should be at the heart of things – hence my call for a “Think and Do Tank” that they would run and develop.
As we have seen from the petty squabbling amongst the Labour party leaders in the Region there is a total lack of trust and a total lack of a spirit of partnership amongst the politicians of the region. This is replicated with the private sector. Why do we have a number of small Chambers of Commerce? The logic of a City Region should mean that we have one big, powerful Chamber capable of doing things at scale and with enthusiasm.
We need to pick up the big issues not spend our time looking at the small ones. The City Region is the size of Northern Ireland. It is more than twice the size of Luxemburg it needs to think big in the way it promotes itself and its opportunities. We need a bit more swagger and a bit more external application.
We need to pick our winners and get behind them public and private sector alike. What are the business opportunities for the future that we can logically build upon given our current base and location?
Above all we need to ‘just do it!’ For three years we have trod water whilst the politicians squabbled. Now we need to leave all that behind us. This must not wait for the regional mayoral election next year but must start now. Engage politicians from all parties, business people from all sectors, exciting people from all communities and intellectuals from all sectors.
Sprinkle them with enthusiasm; back them with whatever resources we can muster and together we might just turn this City Region around and create here not Heaven on Earth but a confident outgoing Conurbation which delivers good jobs and good opportunities for its citizens.