Yesterday, the Centre for Cities published the findings of its non-partisan study into how well our great cities have been adapted to the new world. Looking at the changing face of economics and employment from 1911 to 2013, the study aimed to show just what is the forward trajectory of our historic cities.
And it made for some stomach-churning reading.
Our share of Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) lags behind Bolton and Warrington, Huddersfield and, erm, Norwich. In manufacturing in foreign-invested businesses, we’re behind Birkenhead, Hull, Peterborough, Grimsby and Newport.
Taken as a whole, the study showed that Liverpool’s suffered an overall reduction in employment of ten percent. To put that in context, of the 64 cities they studied, Liverpool ranked an underwhelming 50. Against that, cities such as Peterborough, Coventry, Warrington, Doncaster, York and Middlesborough have all seen strong growth.
Manchester, too, has seen a decline. The city lost 400,000 jobs in manufacturing over the last century – creating a vast job-creating challenge. But, crucially, the tide is turning there. Its share of jobs in the knowledge based sector is 17% compared to Liverpool’s 10.
There is, the report says, a fork in the road: cities can either replicate (stick to what they know, provide low-skill, low-paid work, and remain slow to adapt to new economies) or reinvent (foster an environment that encourages the replacement of jobs in declining industries with jobs in new, more knowledge-focused, areas of activity.)
Liverpool, the report suggests, is embarked on the former. We’d have to say they’re onto something.
Better performing cities (Manchester, Peterborough, Warrington, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds) are doing the latter.
“While such (replicating) investment is invariably a good thing for the people who benefit from
the jobs it creates, it serves to reinforce the replication of these economies. Such investment is likely to feel the pressures of globalisation most keenly in coming years too,” the report says.
“While many northern cities are cheaper than southern cities, there are many locations around the world that offer an abundance of lower-skilled workers and land at an even cheaper price.”
In other words, replicating can hold back the tide. But for only so long.
“Successful cities of the future will be those that adapt to the constant change that the 21st century will bring, in the way London and latterly Manchester have done in recent decades,” the report says. Whereas: “The relocation of lower-skilled public administration jobs, such as HM Revenue and Customs jobs to Liverpool, while no doubt welcome, are likely to have reinforced replication.”
As the competitive advantages of cities and the national economy has shifted, the report says, the challenge for cities is to change, to adapt. To reinvent.
“In other cities, such as Liverpool – the public sector has softened its decline. There are 41,000 fewer jobs in the city today than in 1911. But without the expansion of public sector jobs this would have been much worse – the private sector has an estimated 141,000 fewer jobs than it did 100 years ago,” it adds, darkly.
Cities are changing. Successful cities are changing fastest. Liverpool, now, needs to look at what makes us different, better, more able to become fit for purpose as we move forward. Instead of going, always, for the easy metrics of development at any cost, the lowest-common-denominator new builds, and the parachuted-in mindset of attracting business relocations. We need to build our own future. Enhance, nurture and encourage what we have right here.
Ambition should never be a dirty word. We should never settle, never opt for the un-inspired simply because it’s the easiest option. Walk along Hope Street and look at the student apartments where Josephine Butler House once stood (a British feminist who fought for women to be educated and prostitutes protected). Look at the student towers planned for Jamaica Street or the Heaps Mill site. Does it scream ambition? Or does it shout short term thinking and ‘quick, get some cranes up before the elections?’
The Centre for Cities report is as uncomfortable as finding final demand bills in your parent’s kitchen drawer, stuffed to the back. It’s all those things all of us in pubs and restaurants and cinemas and offices and sheds at gigs, art galleries, school gates, doctors surgeries and bus stops have been saying in Liverpool for as long as any of us can remember. It’s why we write this site. And it should be a wake up call.
Yes, the council will point to reports saying Liverpool is the fastest growing city in the country in the last ten years. yes it’ll shout about IFB and “engines for growth” but when our gaming industry bemoans how Reading and Guildford have overtaken us (“It feels like we’re a world class sprinter running with our laces tied,” Catalyst’s Ivan Davies told us, “We just need to undo our laces and we could race ahead of the competition. We have more games companies than ever in the city, but the number of people employed is far less. We have a healthy supply of new entrants coming out of education. We just need the roles for them to progress into. The collective game industry experience in our city is immense. We need support in place to pass that knowledge on correctly.”) what’s the real story?
Why are we still encouraging impossible 10% yields for overseas investors looking to make a quick buck on inappropriately sited student flats? Why are we prowling around our night time economy with decibel readers, thwarting the growth of one area of the economy we know how to deliver? Why are we still playing zero-sum games romancing Amazon when we should be focusing on our brightest and best, developing an economy that’s built on real and sustainable growth.
For some truly inspiring new architecture take a walk up Brownlow Hill and see the new Biomedical Campus, or the new Royal that will be home to a new Health Campus. Looks at the Science Park (all three buildings of it). Look at Baltic Triangle. Not brownfield developments on the fringes of the city but those right in the heart of it. Attracting interesting and interested people.
Unilever are building robots at the Science Park that will cut the time it takes to make new products. Damibu are building apps that make life easier for those living with dementia. Starship are hiring games developers and the Studio School is pumping out young people with more good ideas that you can shake an overpriced Apple device at. Scraperwiki just had a team from the UN in town to talk about the product they’ve developed helping them map ebola cases.
And yet we still fall behind. Jobs wise we look backwards and think we can simply build on what we did before. We celebrate HMRC bringing clerical and data entry jobs when we should be training up data scientists. We politely say thanks when developers say they’re opening another apartment block, another faceless mall or restaurant as though all our kids and grandkids will want to work in is the service industry. It doesn’t matter what our parents tell us what we could be when we grow up, our own city is telling us we shouldn’t aspire to be better because they don’t.
Cities are too important for politicians. They’re too important to be lost in mires of bureaucracy and political infighting, for regeneration briefs to be used in power plays, for portfolios to be passed to our mates dragged into office to keep the uncomfortable truth from our door. A pallid new building should not be the reason we vote for you or don’t vote for you. If we have any sense of civic responsibility we should want to handover a city to the people coming up behind us that’s better, more profitable and more ambitious than the one we were handed.
The modern economy requires concerted efforts to help us adapt effectively to new technologies and global competition. Requires an understanding of where we are, now, and of how to harness that power.
This is a one-hundred year study. Blame can not be laid at the door of any one administration. But the future? That’s on our hands, right now. News, today, reaches us that the Kazimier is to close down completely next January. We’ll have more on this in time. But if it does, this is another fork in the road.
Clearly, the task of building a new city can not be left to planners, to Regeneration Liverpool, to the great, shape-shifting storm front of municipal bodies that dance to the tune of transient officials. It’s up to us. And it’s not going to be easy.
We need to turn things around – so that our elected officials work for us. Enable us to show the world what we’re made of.
So what are we going to do about it?