Massage the figures any which way you like, but there is no escaping it – the publication of the 2011 census figures show Liverpool to be a city, relative to UK average growth, that’s actually shrinking. And in a time of budget cuts, it’s the relative population figure that’s all important.
The figures are striking: the population of England and Wales is 3.7 million higher than at the last census 10 years ago, twice the rate of growth than the previous decade.
Yet, while the population is rising faster than at any time since the 19th century, Liverpool’s is still sluggish, especially compared to that of Manchester’s.
Long term predictions by the Office for National Statistics, and discussed by our council at a special meeting in March, paint a gloomy picture.
By 2023 Liverpool’s population is projected to be 454,500 an increase of 3.0%, and by 2033, 465,600: an increase of 5.6%, much smaller than those projected for England as a whole, which is forecast to increase by 18%.
Liverpool’s population is projected to rise at a slower rate than the North West average and is also, as the graph below shows, the lowest rate of increase of all of the core cities. And, while yesterday’s first batch of numbers differed somewhat from these predicted, the general trend – of Liverpool left in the slow lane – was clear to see.
All these factors suggest that if population remains the dominant factor for resource distribution then Liverpool will continue to receive a declining share of public resources. In other words, it’s up to us to turn the tide.
But it’s not the bald statistics that matter – it’s the story behind the numbers. And it’s a tale that we need to pay close attention to in the decade to come. For, while the census shows a clear acceleration of pace 50 miles down the M62, what’s not clear is what percentage of that rise can be accounted for by us leaving.
But allow us to give you just a few more figures. Ten years ago, Liverpool’s population – at 441,900 – was larger than Manchester’s 422,900.
Now, after a 19% rise, Manchester’s has broken that symbolic half-million mark, clocking in at 503,100. Liverpool’s – rising a meagre 6% – has stalled at 466,000. We don’t want to sound alarmist, but if you’re looking for signs of a city on the up, Manchester’s already reached escape velocity. And that’s before the high speed rail link. It’s a lead that, predictions suggest, is only going to widen.
SevenStreets knows of three companies who’ve upped sticks and moved to be closer to the commissioning editors of Media City. Anecdotally, we’ve heard of many more moving either to Manchester or London (or further afield). So what can we do to stem the flow away from the city?
Liverpool’s new Mayor, Joe Anderson, has already shown his hand: his manifesto explicitly promising to nurture the city’s well-respected knowledge and creative economies. Anderson, the only core-city mayor, has promised 20,000 new jobs in the next five years, and to make Liverpool ‘Britain’s most business-friendly city.’
Quite how he’ll achieve that is, perhaps, too early to speculate on: but grants from the Regional Development Fund (earmarked to transform Stanley Dock Warehouse into yet more flats), a Shanghai-style international business expo in 2014, and the cruise ship turnaround facility are the first announcements out of the block.
But what of the city’s indomitable – and innovative – digital and creative sector? How is Mayor Anderson’s manifesto playing out on their virtual factory floors? And how do they think our bullishly successful neighbour is affecting our talent pool?
“Business Rates and high taxes for small businesses don’t help at all. I’m still waiting for news of the tax relief for businesses involved in animation and game development. It seems that we aren’t seen as a priority in the government and local Council’s eyes.”
Holmes’ Baltic Triangle-based business – creating perfectly rendered CGI worlds for Lloyds TSB, BBC and Sony amongst others – is punching well above its weight, and its order books are healthy. But he knows, first hand, how eagerly our competitor cities are snapping at our heels.
For him, the census figures must come as no surprise.
“I’ve been saying all along that cities like Manchester have big blue chip clients feeding work into the city centre; where in Liverpool this doesn’t happen. It seems the creative community
have to fight for the little scraps of work available,” he says.
Crucially, Manchester has seen its greatest population rise in the essential 20-30 year old band: young, wide-eyed economic time-bombs eager to pollinate our post-industrial cities. Graduates retained.
“We need to assert itself on the global map as the best place to launch or open a creative or game development studio with subsidized rents, low business rates and tax relief. All of which
would encourage start-ups to be make it, allow established businesses to grow further and more importantly attract massive brands to set up in the area,” Holmes says.
“Liverpool has all the foundations to be a massive success, but we just need more support. We have some great creative here. I could roll off names of individuals who I think are at the same level if not greater than some of the best in the creative business worldwide. The issue is support and thinking outside of the box.”
There is a tendency, we admit, for those of us in the creative sector to concentrate our worldview a little too heavily on ourselves – but SevenStreets thinks this time we have a point. Jobs in construction come and go (come on, Peel’s scheme is never going to happen like those projections, is it?), what the city needs is to be a centre of excellence in key sectors. Tourism is one, for sure. Life sciences another. But culture and digital technology is our currency. And, increasingly, it’s what the world needs now.
Liverpool’s creative sector is resurgent. Moreover it is resilient. We know how to magic up songs, art, virtual race tracks, smart technology, biennials and festivals. It’s in our DNA. And we have the warehouses, the infrastructure, the talent and the drive to punch persuasively above our weight.
But we can’t do it on our own. We need a plan. We need transport to the Baltic, we need more venues (it’s criminal that, on the gig circuit, Liverpool is still classed as a B city to other’s A status), we need protected rents (we’ve heard far too many stories recently of greedy landlords stupidly hiking up rents in supposedly creative corners of the city, with the resultant exiting of small start ups), we need our authorities to work together (Sefton and Knowsley have actually seen population figures decrease) and we need to channel our god given ability to think differently – and act radically – if we’re to ever reclaim our lost ground.
“I think that there needs to be someone looking at the overall strategy of the city and focusing on bringing bigger blue chips to the area,” says Holmes. “When they’re here they should be actively introduced to the local creative community on a regular basis. I just don’t see that.
“There seems to be a big disconnect for one reason or another.”
Whatever it is, keeping our people here – and inviting more here – must be the city’s number one priority.
There is much work to be done.