October 21, 2008

Making Liverpool Prosper Beyond '08

Making Liverpool Prosper Beyond '08

Event type: Conference

Date: 2008-10-16


On Thursday, Dr. Tim Leunig was brave enough to visit Liverpool and participate in a debate entitled Making Liverpool Prosper Beyond '08 at the Anglican cathedral. I say brave because he was one of the authors of the recent think-tank report, Cities Unlimited (pdf), which was widely derided in the press as claiming that we should close cities like Liverpool and move everyone to Cambridge or London. Its publication prompted me to write down some of my thoughts and reasons for doing exactly the opposite.

The debate started with Dr. Leunig presenting a summary of his thoughts and opinions on the matter. He stated from the start that it was "never [his] intention to upset people" and that upsetting people was something that he regrets, but he also stood by the paper.

He then proceeded to run through some of the facts and figures which formed the basis of their analysis, and noted that even a competing think-tank, the IPPR, had listed Liverpool bottom of a league of 56 big cities for unemployment, skills and wage levels.

None of the other panellists argued with the bare facts in the report; where they differed with Dr. Leunig was in their analysis of what should be done. Cities Unlimited proposes that it's too late for places like Liverpool to catch up, and we shouldn't waste money trying. Dr. Leunig argued that he was just trying to be realistic - he isn't promising a bright future, but seems to think that a life on an average wage in some nondescript satellite town of London is a worthy alternative. "I don't think we can do better than that."

Responding to Dr. Leunig's address was Professor David Robertson, head of the Public Policy Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University. As I noted, he didn't disagree with the facts in Cities Unlimited but did disagree on the action that should follow such facts: "A cat and a duck can both agree that it's raining, but disagree on what that means to them."

Professor Robertson stated the obvious really, that Liverpool needs to shift from an aid economy to a prosperity economy. He also thinks that the moment of truth is fast approaching for the city - we're nearing the end of our year as Capital of Culture, a title we can't hold again, and the economic crisis will make it harder to gain aid.

He went on to lay out his common myths of Liverpool, something we needed to acknowledge and accept so that we can move past them into the future:

  • Liverpool is a uniquely creative city. Although we have a lot of entertainers - musicians, comedians, actors - the city is well below average when it comes to other markers of creativity such as patents.
  • The education system in Liverpool is working. For primary school level, Liverpool does well (above average IIRC), but this deteriorates quickly during secondary and further education. Liverpool's labour base is weak - 30% of adults lack any qualification at all.

He summed up by saying that from here and now we need to reject all hopelessness, and build a creative coalition to map the next five years for Liverpool.

A question and answer session followed the main addresses, with a few members of the audience chosen to ask their previously-emailed queries. A couple of people wanted to take Dr. Leunig to task, but most were concerned with how the city should respond to these problems and how it should differentiate itself.

The Q&A session was the first time I've encountered city council leader Warren Bradley, and I was distinctly unimpressed. When talking about how Liverpool should differentiate itself, all he managed to do was blow his own trumpet for a while on how much progress they've (the council) made, and then stated that the "vision is based around 2024". That's nice, I suppose it's a long-term view which is to be applauded in politicians, but what's happening in 2024? Obviously I'm new to the city and to the council's plans, but surely a leader would drop the odd hint in for the uninformed? Surely the destination and direction of travel are more important than a date?

The ever-present Phil Redmond had a better idea for a future direction, and was clearer in spelling it out. He doesn't think we can wait for 2024, but he's pinning his, and the cities, hopes on creative entrepreneurs disrupting the world of broadcast and entertainment by taking advantage of the new digital media. I'm not convinced that digital media can, or indeed that it should, sustain the entire city, but I'll be happy to be proved wrong.

I do agree with him encouraging entrepreneurs is a strategy worth pursuing, and that we need to overhaul the education system - raw intelligence is only one of the factors contributing to a prosperous world, but the government seems intent on making it more and more important in schools. One of the other panellists, Pauline Davis (Managing Director of NewHeartlands Housing Market Renewal Programme) also commented on this area, saying that we need to give support to youngsters from deprived areas to help them build businesses.

I think the biggest challenges will be in harnessing the talents of the under-qualified population, but that's a problem that isn't unique to Liverpool. I agree with Professor Robertson that Liverpool should be looking to move its image further from the brawn end of the spectrum, towards the brain end, and that we need to show that the city is smart, envionmentally-smart and safe. However, we'll only achieve that if we can find an alternative to the now non-existent manufacturing and dock work.

  • Daily Post article about the event
  • Tags: Liverpool Cities_Unlimited Tim_Leunig

    Posted by Adrian at October 21, 2008 02:52 PM | TrackBack

    This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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    It's gone lad...

    Posted by: kellog at December 20, 2009 12:30 PM
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