Last night I headed down to the Shipping Forecast with Dan to attend the Mellowtone night, courtesy of the guys at the excellent Liverpool blog 7streets. I managed to win the free tickets from the competition in their recent interview with the Mellowtone nights' promoter.
The Shipping Forecast is fast becoming one of my favourite bars in Liverpool - a good range of beers, decent food and a relaxed, indie vibe. I'd been a few times before for drinks (and sometimes food) but yesterday was the first time I'd ventured downstairs to the gig venue.
It follows the great tradition of Liverpool music venues by being an old warehouse basement - brick walls with reasonably low (but not so low as to be a problem) vaulted ceilings. It's a fairly intimate venue, and they've done a good job (to my untrained ears) with the sound system - all the acts sounded great.
Neither of us had heard of any of the performers before but the quality bar was set surprisingly high. I'd quite happily go and listen to any of the bands again, and have been enjoying a re-creation of the night as I've dug out the myspace links for this blog post.
I tend not to hold too much store in multi-page reports and treatises setting out how group X or initiative Y will revitalise and regenerate Liverpool (or anywhere really...). However, on reading that a group calling itself the Knowledge Economy Group had released such a document, and that they claim to represent the sorts of businesses of which I'm one, I thought I'd take a closer look.
As seems usual for these sorts of reports, the headline figure (e.g. in the Liverpool Daily Post article) is all about the number of jobs that could be created. I don't know why journalists persist with such numbers - surely nobody believes any more that they bear any relation to reality? And it reduces all jobs to being completely equal. I'm not convinced that 1000 part-time jobs at Tesco, say, are better (in anything but the short-term) than 150 at a locally-owned haulage firm. We should be looking beyond the grandstanding of job counts to the merit of the approaches and projects being proposed.
Getting into the specifics of the proposals and there are some very interesting recommendations.
But before I get to that, a few comments on some of the less impressive sections - to temper my enthusiasm. All of these quotes are taken from the 22 page executive summary (pdf) - I've only dipped into the 216 pages of the full report to follow interesting references from the summary.
"(iv) Press for the Media Access Bureau business model to be reviewed, given the currently very low take-up, to ensure that maximum advantage can be taken of the technology which Northern Net represents and then ensure that further media access points are provided across the city region where there are concentrations of creative and digital industries"
Or maybe we realise that the "very low take-up" is for a reason, and stop wasting money and effort on trying to prove the "significant opportunity" in MediaCityUK...
"4.1.2. It is also hoped that the opportunity will be taken to establish an ‘Innovation Board’ which should be driven by the private sector, with strong academic and business support and have the job of keeping the city region and its economy at the leading edge of thinking (the Foresighting role); the leading edge of technology development and the leading edge of applications for the use of new technologies. The Innovation Board should be free to prompt debate and encourage innovation across the economy, supported by the LEP."
I'm not sure what an "Innovation Board" would do, other than generate reports like this one. I can't see how any business could hope to stay at the forefront of new technologies if it's sat around waiting for somebody else to tell them what those technologies are. If the council (or whoever else) needs to tap into any "foresighting" information, they'd be better off talking to the attendees of GeekUp Liverpool, that's already a group "driven by the private sector" where members give talks to spread information about new technologies and encourage debate about how that affects our work and businesses. And you get to do it over a pint...
And to take us into the more exciting ideas, I'd love to get Francis' take on this section:
"(a) It is proposed that the Universities of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores jointly explore the establishment, in conjunction with other centres of expertise and the wide-ranging public sector across the city region, of a Public Services Institute which would focus on two distinct areas of action:
Finally, onto the important bits.
"...it is recommended that the opportunity should be taken to explore next generation technologies (e.g. smart materials, physical computing, additive layer manufacturing)"
Physical computing? Things like Arduino and the Internet of Things, you mean? And "additive layer manufacturing" sounds remarkably like 3D printing to me...
"The following action is proposed:
(c) The establishment of Fab Labs in the city region would promote innovation and creativity and improve the image of manufacturing as well as supporting the development of emerging business ideas. There is an important crossover here with the creative and digital sector.
(d) Digital Manufacturing is the 21st century way to make products – producing real physical products from igital information. Work is needed to examine how partners across the city region can best promote the application of this groundbreaking technology in support of the manufacturing sector."
As is probably apparent from my comments, I'm not sure what these reports are supposed to achieve; however I think it is great to see technologies like physical computing and digital manufacturing getting included.
If you want to read the full report, it's available at the Knowledge Economy Plan page.
It turns out you can get a lot done if you just take more responsbility instead. It's often offered, rarely taken.
(And you can get even more done if you give away credit, relentlessly)"