There are three core tenets to the new Respublica report. We’ve read it cover to cover. You should too. Broadly speaking, they are:
They’re at odds with the LEP’s prediction of 73,000 new jobs by 2030. More like 41,000 they say. Only by getting HS2 will we see those kind of numbers. We can’t see anything wrong with their projections (but they are only, at best, an educated finger in air) – but we’d love it if the report started the debate with another fundamental question – whether bigger, faster, taller – this obsession with more at any cost – is the only route out of here. It took us 90 years of decline to get where we are. So let’s not kid ourselves that a quick fix, or a fast train, is the only way to reverse it.
Because, let’s not deny it – there is another connectivity in play here; one with a far more subtle, but devastating cause and effect: a sub prime mortgage sold, greedily and immorally in South Carolina eight years ago, has closed down half the museums in Lancashire, has slashed day care centres in Liverpool, has resulted in Liverpool being screwed over by Government budget cuts. The connectivity of capitalism.
Our financial model is broken in every conceivable way. The market really doesn’t have our best interests at heart. And we seem to still want in? Still want more. Why does a city need to be bigger, anyway? Why can’t we, at the very least, talk about this? You think the people of Durham have a worse quality of life than the people of Birmingham?
The big question is – what does Liverpool want to be when it grows up? Another Manchester? Forget it. Never (thankfully) gonna happen.
There are many valid points in Respublica report. Wedded to the (awfully named) Northern Powerhouse, it’s of the opinion that Liverpool should be the start of HS3 – the east west line that runs from here to Hull. I get that. That’s more important, I think, than a fast route to London and outta here. A silk road across the Pennines makes total sense, culturally as much as economically.
The local payback system they suggest to part fund the HS2 extension – basically, we keep the taxes on new jobs to pay for HS2 – seems to us like some sleight of hand that results in the same conundrum: this is money that would have gone to Whitehall. Whitehall is saying it can’t afford to give us HS2. So why would they give up these taxes? Well, early indications are – they don’t.
That said, locally raised taxation should, in part, be spent locally. What would I spend it on? Every penny of it on education. Training, not trains. Then, perhaps, we’d grow wiser politicians, smarter thinkers, better bloggers. Better teachers. As I’ve said before, I think the answer lies within, not on a route out. If you nurture and support a city to become a place of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, of lovely places to live and spend time in – trust me, you’ll spend an extra 28 minutes to get there. If you decide to travel by train. And you might not – some people use things like cars.
Some of the world’s most livable, lovable cities – Portland, Vancouver, Bergen, friggin Perth – aren’t exactly on a fast line to the first city, but they seem to do awfully well. Why is that? Build it better and they will come, perhaps?
Respublica suggests a City Region Business Senate – an advisory chamber of representatives from the region’s private sector, civil and social enterprises, they say to reinvigorated local politics. Read: to inject it with the smarts it’s clearly lacking.
Our political situation is dire. And we’ve allowed a culture that thinks dissent is anathema. A mayor with skin so thin I’m surprised Channel 5 haven’t done a medical porn doc on him. We just don’t have a climate of debate anymore. The patronage system Joe’s set up, a mayoral lead here, a crony there, might shore him up in the short term, but we need to be cashing cheques in 50 years time that we write today. And I don’t see much evidence of that.
Fact is we’re not as good as we think we are – culturally, economically, educationally – and Respublica, rightly, recognises this. But it also recognises, rightly too, that we’re a city with plenty of assets: creative, digital, life science chief among them. But these rely as much on the cloud and the broadband – and will increasingly do so, because our neighbours are in Singapore, Seattle and Stockholm. Top people will be drawn here if our whole offer is right. Not if our route to Crewe is marginally faster.
Respublica want to force us to take a good hard look at ourselves and admit it – we need to shape up. Stop with the awards and nepotism, stop with the continual narrative of some bruised but brilliant city, of how everyone hates us but we don’t care. And how much money the Beatles brings in.
They suggest a new institution: Transform Liverpool – to support the Metro Mayor – operationally independent. but working like a think tank – cooking up ideas on reform for economic, public service and research. The CEO should be a figure of international standing, it says. Imagine that salary.
No, wait – we’re not against paying big bucks for the right person. But we’ve a history of paying big bucks to the wrong person, haven’t we? Only to see them leave with a hefty severance pay? And the wrong Joint Ventures too. Maybe we need to employ that fella from The Apprentice next time we interview some external hero to save us all. Like Wayne Hemmingway or whoever the fuck it is next time.
More tangibly, the report wants to make Liverpool the UK’s third most visited city. To ramp up our offer, to appoint a Creative Director for the City Region with the power to ‘unify, coordinate and curate existing activities and funding’. A Tourism Czar, we suppose that means. If they make an edict to ban padded headboards and chandeliers we’ll stump up their salary alone.
Ultimately, it’s about connectivity again – that the Liverpool city region needs to pull together, and create a joined up offer. And of that we heartily agree.
There’s is no doubt – as the report says, the city is at a crossroads. So do we build for growth, or take a moment to regroup, and see if there really is another way? Build for quality of life or plough new track through fragile communities, just like we did with Granby, and send families scattering to the four winds?
Transformative change will only happen when we mature enough, as a city/region to really listen, open up not close down debate, and to be honest enough to to question that which we hold most dear.
This is a solid, considered and compassionate piece of work: it comes from a good place. Respublica believes in a future for the city. We don’t agree with all of it. But we don’t think that’s the point: fact is, it’s on the table, and we need to consider its recommendations carefully.
Respublica, like us, knows that Liverpool is an innovative, forward thinking city. Now’s the time to prove it. And we mean really prove it.
So where do we go from here?