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?

“I think we should and could be helped out a lot more,” says Milky Tea’s CEO Jon Holmes

“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.

23 Responses to “Living By Numbers”

  1. Phil Mack

    There looks like there’s a pretty noticeable discrepancy between the ONS projected figures and the actual census figures, but I guess these things are to be expected. The general point is well made – Liverpool’s on the up, but not yet fast enough.

  2. For spurring economic growth, at the moment I don’t have much confidence in our current council sadly. With such a massive majority and therefore virtually no opposition, I wonder perhaps if they lack being challenged.

    Opening the station at St James on the Northern line is such an obvious way to give the Baltic creative area (and places like the CUC, residential areas etc) a massive boost, well over a bit of PR and doing up some units, but it seems no one out there is willing to think like this. Surely if £10m can be found for the cruise liner terminal, this could be funded and that there could be a way found round any red tape preventing it? That’s just one example of what I think a “big city” would do.

    Manchester’s city centre has really taken off, and it seems almost every month there is a new building going up somewhere. Added to that they were gifted the billions to extend their metro (despite having said no to congestion charging, which was portrayed as being a condition). Certainly, their city authorities seem to be able to take the big decisions, get results and their political colours don’t seem to be an issue for the british government.

    Meanwhile, Liverpool (meaning the city that does absorb Sefton, Knowsley, Runcorn and Wirral) is divided up into a number or boroughs that seem to me to ignore the world outside their border (unless they’re objecting to a development in a neighbouring borough perhaps!). All the while, probably wondering what on earth more they could do about their tranche of impoverished citizens. Well, duh!

    I think we need to grow a brand new cross Liverpool people’s party to create the de-facto unitary area that we need, so we can do things ourselves and demand to be treated equally with a louder voice. While “Liverpool” is just 400,000 people it can be ignored as if it were no more important than Leicester. With around 2m, it would be a different story.

  3. Littoral

    One would expect a rather confused negative spin on a positive news story about Liverpool to come from a Manchester-based publication rather than one based in Liverpool.

    Of course, even the census estimates need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Manchester’s figures in particular have been lost in a confusion of smoke and mirrors since the last census when the figures showed a sharp decline, rather at odds with the already relentless pro-Manchester hype eminating from the government, Manchester councils and the media. They squealed and just for them, and them alone, a special project was carried out to reassess the figures, try to find out where the missing population was. Lo and behold, their estimate was dragged up and their council’s funding from central government proportionally increased. This new 20%? Well it’s shocking frankly even considering the constant government assistance to Manchester, traditional but feverish in intensity during the New labour period – transport investment, merging of regional functions into Manchester-based Northwest bodies, forcing the BBC to set up a huge and hugely-expensive base in Manchester on pain of licence fee settlement cuts, etc.

    Neverthless, yesterdays news indicates that the earlier estimates that David inconsistantly includes above and does not notice are at odds with the census results, were wrong. Liverpool city council for the first time in decades is growing again and at a fair and what seems to be an accelarating clip. Spinning this as bad takes some doing. There is a long way to go but this is great news. Think about this: the census estimate shows 2011′s population higher than the government was estimating it would get to by 2023! The estimates were *wrong*.

    As for local firms moving to Media City, how is this Liverpool’s fault? Liverpool people’s innate creativity and entrepreneurship created these firms – we’re good at this shit – the London-based state has intervened into the market and unbalanced the local digital and broadcast economy by investing a billion pounds of our tax-payers money hoisting up the flagging media industry of a rival city. Blame the state not Liverpool.

    As for Joe, let’s us that as an elected mayor and with the city with a poltical champion for the first time in a long time, he’ll campaign to ensure that a distant and disinterested government in London does not make too many of the sorts of decisions that it likes to do, HS2, Metrolink but not Merseytram, regional HQs in Manchester, Media City and so on, that boost another place at our expense and predate upon our own successes.

  4. Great piece. More support is needed for the creative sector. Good piece. Bear in mind however, Manchester’s figures are fiddled. When the last census was taken and they appeared smaller than L’pool, they spat their dummy out and the government moved a big chunk of Greater Manchester’s population, bout 20,000, into the city’s figures. L’pool’s figures don’t even include Bootle.

  5. Littoral – Im sure Dave will be along shortly to reply, but whatever you make of the figures (and I should point out that we’re aware that projected, relative declines in Liverpool’s population is of significant concern to the city council) you’ve got one of Liverpool’s most successful creative types bemoaning Liverpool’s lack of success in nurturing and encouraging talent.

    Fostering a creative environment, graduate retention, holding onto the successful digital agencies that we have in Liverpool have got to be central to attracting more people to the city – which is carving out a useful niche for itself in the sectors mentioned – has got to be the way forward. Liverpool seems to be failing to do that at present, as we’re hearing straight form the horse’s mouth.

    Joe’s arrival may kickstart some projects, but we clearly need to do more.

    As for the claim that the site is anti-Liverpool, we’ve never pretended to be a mindless cheerleader for Liverpool. We’re a critical friend – and we think that’s of more benefit to Liverpool.

  6. Doc Daneeka

    These population figures don’t really surprise me and whilst you can cry foul over the definitions or claim that others are fiddling theirs it doesn’t change the reality that our city is struggling to maintain its population size.

    What I do worry about is the way that we’ve latched onto the phrase ‘managed decline’ ever since news of its use in some cabinet notes in the 80s emerged its trotted out whenever theirs a story about a political or economic decision not going our way.

    That fewer people are choosing to live in the city is not as a result of a coherent top down political strategy. Rather it is more a consequence of London centric policies which affects all provincial cities and of their never having been a coherent policy for economic growth outside of London.

    This applies both to central and local governments of all shades.

    I do agree with this article on a couple of things though the worryingly low numbers of graduates of our Univerisites that stay in the city and the need to focus on a couple of strengths rather than jumping at every new idea and wonder sector that emerges.

    Finally the question I’ve always asked of our regeneration/ economic policy but have never had answered is what kind of city do we want to be?

    Who are we comparing ourselves with and trying to emulate? London ? Manchester? Brighton?
    I’ve never heard a local politician articulate a vision for what Liverpool should be, all I ever hear a platitudes, whinning and wishful thinking but without a leader who has a vision and plan how are the rest of us supposed to follow and pitch in?

  7. Littoral – ‘the earlier estimates that David inconsistantly includes above and does not notice are at odds with the census results, were wrong’ – Just to clarify, I did notice, and say in the feature: ‘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.’
    To say that Liverpool’s census figures are higher than the projected figures for 2023 is disingenuous, because – across the board – the figures are higher than expected, more so in most places than here. But as I say, this isn’t about figures, it’s about trends. And the trend remains. Liverpool is growing slower than other core cities.
    Make no mistake, I’m not saying it’s Liverpool’s fault companies are moving to MCR. Quite the opposite. In fact, you’ll get no argument from me about all you say concerning investment in Manchester. Couldn’t agree more.
    Please don’t accuse us of scaremongering unnecessarily – there is a real story here, and it’s one we need to grasp. I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing of Joe Anderson’s tenure (interviewed him last week) – so let’s see…

  8. “I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing of Joe Anderson’s tenure (interviewed him last week) – so let’s see…”

    I take it that’s coming in an interview? I will look forward to that if so. It has seemed to me to be far too quiet on the mayoral front so far, and he is supposed to be our chief spokesperson now after all.

  9. Littoral

    Robbo: No need to be so defensive. Having a discussion section beneath your articles means that some people will use it to criticise them. David has responded ably enough on his own behalf anyway, as you predicted. I will look forward to Dave’s interview with the big fella.

  10. Littoral

    The bottom line is that Liverpool’s population has grown, by a little below the national average but better than plenty of other cities and towns. If the figures can be believed (I can believe a large increase for Manchester but am sceptical about 20%), this seems to be the tide turning. Consider that this increase has happened during the devastation of the last government’s disastrous, neighbourhood-wasting New Heartland scheme. Now Big Joe promised a minimum of demolitions and wholesale housebuilding with the aim of keeping people in the city. And we are getting immigration again for the first time in decades. Poles, Spanish, Portuguese, and a brand new south Asian population we’ve never had before in the south end! Going forward, things should get better. The news yesterday was suprisingly good in the context of our friend in government predicting further decline. This is why I was annoyed enough to respond to David’s overall negative tone in response to what does seem to be evidence of a real turnaround, early days into our revival we may be.

  11. But that isn’t evidence. It’s your personal opinion. Liverpool having the slowest rising population of all core cities IS evidence that things aren’t exactly going swimmingly where relative populations, hence future funding is concerned. And why we need to figure out how to address that problem rather than stick our fingers in our ears whole loudly proclaiming everything to be hunky-dory.

  12. Littoral

    Even that isn’t true. Leeds for example received 5 per cent, while it was predicted by the ONS previously to rocket ahead with Liverpool’s growth stagnating.

    Things AREN’T hunky dory in Liverpool but the tanker is being turned round and faster than the ONS was predicting and I for one thought. Yesterday’s new was evidence of this – surprising evidence. As *news*, the take-home message was postive. Well all know that historically Liverpool has suffered decline. That’s a given.

    It is interesting also to pay attention to all the places that have experienced high growth. These include Bradford, not an economic hotbed you’ll agree, and also Birmingham, a great city but one which has continued to experience decline of its traditional manufacturing industries during the last decade, while Manchester and to an extent Liverpool have begun to revive and has a higher claimant count nowadays than Liverpool. Something in stark contrast to a few decades ago when folk were leaving already declined Merseyside to go to work in the booming Brum manufacturing sector. Pop. growth and the cities’ economic fortunes aren’t in simple proportion. Cities with large “ethnic” populations for want of a better word are seeing higher growth because immigrants are landing in areas where they already have relatives and there are communities sharing their background and because these non-White British groups have higher birthrates.

    In Manchester’s case we have I suspect a mixture of increasing numbers of students, yes a brightening jobs picture but also a reflection of the high proportion of minority groups in the city compared with some others. And possibly an overestimate. High growth, yes, but 20% in ten years? It is sensible to be sceptical, ONS gets their estimates wrong, as the Census results have shown and as they admitted ten years ago when they recalculated Manchester’s Census figures.

  13. Liverpool has been haemorrhaging population for the last 60 years. This trend was exacerbated by central government and the militant tendency in the 1980’s.

    The fact that we have seen the city change from a net loss to one of modest growth should be seen as a positive story. We are not at the same point in our regeneration cycle as Manchester. They started before us and are a least a decade ahead. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

    You are right to strive for improvements but these figures are an enormous improvement and show just how bleak the cities future was as recently as the 90’s. Critical self analysis is to be admired but lets keep the figures in context

  14. Louise

    This is interesting both for the article and the comments but what I was most amazed to learn was that there is a disused station, St James, on the Northern Line and with a bit of googling that there is in fact a whole Outer Loop linking Hunts Cross to Aintree. I can’t understand why this was not on any of the mayoral agendas as it would bring short term job creation and long term regeneration prospects.

  15. James T

    I cannot believe that a Liverpool website and silly Liverpudlians on this comment section are moaning. We have grown faster than Leeds and Newcastle. It was obvious that Manchester would shoot ahead of us because that city has done better at regenerating itself compared to our city.

    We lost 40,000 people last time and now we have gained 27,000. Im happy with that considering ONS thought we would only rise to 445,000.

  16. @Emma, yes you are right there are a huge number of disused tunnels and lines, and opportunities for new stations all over the show.

    While much of it would obviously cost a fair whack, St James is an easy win and that is one thing that absolutely should be pursued in my books. No doubt a host of reasons would be trotted out as to why it’s a ‘No’, but in London they’d already have their drills out which is my point about “big city” decisions and ambition.

    Longer term, it was always intended that the City line would be the same as the Wirral and Northern lines – with the electrification of the Mcr and Wigan lines, in my view a big battle should be fought to get that local line completed too and brought properly under Merseyrail (I believe that was supposed to end at Central via a new underground station at mount pleasant near the cathedral – again another way to get another part of the city centre integrated and acting as a whole). Whether that’s likely to happen…

    Re the article as a whole, I agree with James T and Littoral in some senses – decline has been turned into growth and that’s positive, and some would say that the UK’s growth rate as a whole hasn’t been healthy anyway re strains on local services (which obviously aren’t being funded already).

    I feel we would be better off fighting the “numbers game” by setting out to claim what is rightfully ours – the city as a whole, lock stock and Wirralian barrel. I understand some Wirral and Sefton folk don’t want to be considered “part” of Liverpool, but that’s life get over it I say.

  17. Btw, the other thing that irritates me about St James being ignored is its location, as it wouldn’t just serve the Baltic area of the city centre and give that a major boost, but also help push the city centre up to the upper end of Toxteth.

    For years, the city has been wrestling with “how do we help spread the city centre wealth outwards”, so I find it maddening this gets ignored, especially when money gets spent on “regeneration projects” in either Baltic or Toxteth areas. Spend on this first – then there might not even be the need for public purse projects if private money then invests on the bandwagon.

  18. Louise aka Emma

    Quite alright James, I enjoyed a moment as Emma! You’re dead right and your points about the broader effects of opening/reopening stations seem so common sense I can’t believe it’s been overlooked. Who do we start badgering?

  19. The way I see it, this is exactly the sort of thing the Mayor should be getting involved in, so I would say Mr Anderson.

    I realise Merseytravel is a separate body, but I think he should be telling his councillors that run in what to do for sure. Certainly when things like this are needed, it irks me to see money spent on things like “art on the network”!

  20. I run a digital agency with offices in both Liverpool and London. Our clients are large blue-chips and mostly London based. Over the past couple of years we’ve been using the London office primarily for client handling and project management and investing money back into Liverpool where most of the design and development has been carried out. However, running two offices (with the inherent geographical inconvenience of teams being hundreds of miles apart) is becoming difficult to justify commercially and we’ve decided to close the Liverpool office completely. Some of our staff have relocated to London already.

    Over the past 12 months, we’ve explored some of the local funding initiatives (North West Fund, MSIF etc) and have found they’re not really geared towards “general” creative / digital businesses. NWF, despite having earmarked millions to invest in Liverpool’s digital industry appears more focused on finding the next Facebook (or similar tangible platform) – at least this was our experience having gone through early stages with them. We’ve met a few times with Liverpool Vision and attended their “Liverpool in London” events (in London). The event I attended was based around Dragon’s Den style pitches for a handful of startups to pitch ideas to a panel. The startups weren’t from Liverpool, nor was the panel, nor was the audience. I didn’t really see the Liverpool connection to be honest.

    Anyway, my point is… you read a lot about these initiatives in the press and they appear to have broad appeal. But on closer inspection, they’re either confusing, or geared towards small slices of the industry and not necessarily benefiting the creative companies and agencies that employ local talent. As Jon rightly says, there are a lot of agencies at the moment fighting over scraps of business and I fear some won’t last much longer unless they start to reach (invest) outside the City. And therein lies the quandary for Liverpool.


    I read with interest another SevenStreets article “Liverpool – Land of the Supermarkets” (, which discusses other areas the City is failing to support the future for local businesses.

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