Last week I was handed, at one hours’ notice, a 5-page summary of a 180 page submission to the Government asking for cash for shovel ready projects. Interestingly, it had already been submitted to the Government the previous Monday.
I stated some concerns I had and it was agreed that I would talk to a senior Council officer when the 180 pages were ready after having to be revised from the Government submission because that version contained some confidential items. I naïvely thought that I would get a copy of the submission and have my chat before the report was published. Not so! The first I knew that the report had been available was when I received a press enquiry about it. I still haven’t seen the full report.
This is now becoming common practice in Liverpool. Any pretence at democracy has been put aside. At the last local elections approximately 20% of the population voted Liberal Democrat. The views of those people are being pushed aside and ignored. I have no idea when I will be able to debate the issues in this report. I suspect that Labour, Green and independent councillors will feel the same.
I believe that the submission to the Government for £200,000,000+ for ‘shovel ready’ schemes is a missed opportunity to do things better and differently. The sad fact is that if you do things the same way as you’ve always done them you should expect to get the same outcomes that you’ve always got.
It is clear from the summary that ‘shovel ready’ means that all that we are presenting is a number of preconceived ideas and projects that have been on the books for years that do not meet what the people of Liverpool are asking for post Virus.
Liverpool residents want cleaner air, better transport; improved ability to work from home; better use of or parks and facilities in the area; jobs that relate to climate change with all the opportunities that this would give; proposals to generate power from solar, wind and tidal sources.
Today the Government’s Commission on Climate Change has said that recovery must be based on strong climate change actions but in this report we see only the token gesture of a handful of homes in Liverpool being retrofitted with insulation and the rest of the schemes being those of the vested interests that have contributed to the report. No wonder they are in favour of it – most will benefit from it!
There are huge opportunities in the City to create power from wind, solar and tidal sources. Some of the schemes will take time but many can be kick started quickly. A bold council would look at all its buildings and decide which could be used for cost effective power generation. It should then challenge other public and private building owners to follow suit. I have checked and we could start a substantial programme within weeks.
The idea that we can boldly commission a new Liner Terminal when there is clear evidence from within the industry that there is a strong possibility of a long-term decline in this area of leisure is daft. A recent report showed that more than 30% of existing liner passengers will not go on a liner again. Furthermore, the industry is assuming that there will be little cross Atlantic trade for a long time if ever. Liverpool will be dependent on a relatively small number of European destination tours. This may be a shovel ready scheme but it is likely to be a shovel ready white elephant.
The idea that we should commission more office blocks when there is clear evidence that employers and employees want to do more home working which will reduce the amount of accommodation required is naive. A report was published today that 13% of companies in the City of London will close their offices entirely in favour of remote working and a further 15% of companies will reduce their accommodation and have a hub and spoke operation using offices for team and strategic meetings. I suspect that the same will apply in Liverpool.
There are good things in the proposals. The clear intention to further develop the health and knowledge quarters with enhanced physical and working links between companies and the Universities is a clear example of this. Much of this work is already in train and, as it appears to eb commercially viable, can proceed under any circumstances.
In discussions that I have had with both Liverpool Officers and politicians I have made clear that the Lib Dem team was happy to support a bold and early approach to the Government. I still am. But this was not supposed to happen at the expense of democracy. It was not supposed to a shopping list of pre-virus wishes.
If we want our City to develop in a way that is environmentally and economically sustainable, we have to take the blinkers off and think new thoughts, new programmes formed from new principles. That is not what we have done so far.
I hope that through the scrutiny process the six Merseyside Councils will be able to examine in detail the report and make amendments to it so that the Government finally receives a report and a request which meets the new normal which we live in and not the old normal that the authors and promoters of this report would like us to live in.