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?

9 Responses to “Liverpool: Slightly Better Than Barnsley, new report concludes”

  1. Littoral

    Ah ‘Centre for Cites’. That organisation so clued up about where live their their definition of ‘Liverpool’ includes Newton-le-Willows but not Bootle or Woodside. Beyond however this if you think they’re non-partisan you need your bumps felt.

  2. Littoral

    P.S. The current council leadership does seem to be pretty useless and small time. And any revival needs to be self generated as, unlike other places – especially one place in particular! – Liverpool isn’t given gifts by London and never has been. The government makes sure that Liverpool is handicapped in comparison to other places (planting thousands of state media jobs in a rival city), bypassing the city with HS2, etc., etc., so it’s always going to be harder work for Liverpool than other places, not matter who is in charge locally. No that’s any excuse for the current council and most others of the last 40-50 years.
    The problem isn’t new student blocks and no one celebrates HMRC jobs (news to me that we’ve had any new ones lately). These expemplar cities cited have *more* of this type of stuff than Liverpool. Manchester’s and Leed’s student blocks of the last decade are legendarily bad.
    It’s the lack of other stuff beside this.

  3. Michael McDonough

    There is a serious lack of big ideas and thinking. I really think a new generation of outward looking, brave and massively ambitious leaders are needed in Liverpool. The city has more potential than its regional rivals and yet falls victim to a council with no teeth and a series of quangos that are full of hot air. The city needs a promotional and investment machine of the highest calibre to take the city forward properly. Manchester isn’t some special Mecca and its size and make up isn’t too different to Liverpool. What Manchester appears to be achieving and how it’s positioned itself is admirable but we can do better here – Liverpool just needs its leaders to get their fingers out.

    Ambition is not a dirty word.

  4. I would urge anyone to read the actual report. It makes this article’s reporting of it complete bull.
    Bear in mind that the report is from 1911 until 2013 so declines from the 1960s to 1980s in Liverpool are included and changes in the way ports operate are included as well. The report points out that much of the current trajectory is down to decisions made some time ago.
    And there is a lot happening now in this city to try and rectify those issues. The writer of this article would rather attack the council than speak to them.

  5. Scouse Athey

    I don’t think the council are bad, there are some people who work really hard given the box they are allowed to work within. I just think the way in which our city has focused itself over the last 20-30 years has been a zero sum game in terms of jobs. In in reference to Weary’s comment, maybe the council should listen to the feedback, however negative, to see if they can engage with those who are disgruntled. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what they (the council) are doing after all. You never know, they could find their assumptions proved wrong.

    It would be interesting to know what Ivan Davies means by un-tying the laces. What specifically does he think needs to change to give us the boost?

    It’s easy for me to sit here and pontificate about my own deluded ideals, using sweeping generalisations, and so I will. We have the resources we need at hand to make this city great. We don’t need to get outside consultants to tell us what we need. We just need to ask the established businesses and startups who are here what they need to grow quickly.

    If we need more businesses why not use the talent we have at our fingertips to create them, rather than trying to lure businesses in. We just need to do things a bit more differently to what we’ve done before.

    Building a business up will take about 4-6 years of hard graft (finger in the air average). How many businesses do we need to start to accelerate the city forward in terms of lure of job opportunity? How many do we need to kick start a higher growth in commercial developments? If we can establish that we can start to figure some of the other fundamentals like the support networks (which already exist but need to be sign posted to people), development pipelines and early stage entrepreneurship skill development groups.

  6. Romer Road.

    I wouldn’t take Leeds as an exemplar of a successful city. It was badly hit by the property crash and still bears the scars today. Plans for buildings to out-do Manchester were left in tatters and the sites are either vacant or only now attracting new developments (but on a much smaller scale).

    Even today news broke that a new Hilton Hotel which is midway through construction will be delayed after the builder folded.

    So, what I am saying is, don’t look too much into places like Leeds ect. The grass is not always greener. And these places do not have the heart or sense of place that our city does. It’s a shame this fact is not understood by some of the influential decision makers.

    What is concerning, and is picked up frequently, is the abundance of Student and Hotel developments. Where are the offices? Do we need to wait for Liverpool (and Wirral) Waters to be developed before the prime office developments take off?

    I do wonder how much office space our great city has lost. Admittedly it is a fine balance. We don’t want to be where the likes of Leeds was 10 years ago.

    The Baltic is what could make or brake the City by the sounds of it. That is where the revolution of diversification will happen.

    Let’s hope it makes it.

  7. Sally Hope

    Excellent article – really brings to attention the knowledge and innovation deficit that is crippling this city’s potential. Education levels here are so poor that the only boxes they tick are in the rates of failure – GCSE and A Level achievement 25% plus below the national average, the average life span 13 years less here than some areas of England. Liverpool is not a powerhouse of opportunity and inspiration as some would claim it’s rate of failure is so outstanding that cities overseas now use it as a benchmark for instability, poverty and negative growth – apart from crime which is the one glorious anomaly that studies have yet to decipher. On a positive note the mayoral election is coming up soon 🙂

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