2888116_9ab50a38Times are tight. Uncle Joe’s said so. So how do we keep more of our money in our city? Maybe one way is for the council to use a little affirmative action? It’s the softer name they give to positive discrimination in the US. But its effects can be just as powerful.

Our natural inclination, at SevenStreets, is to shy away from positive discrimination – it has the whiff of nepotism and backhanders about it, and God knows we, as a city, have suffered enough/are still suffering.

But what about when the city has the talent, has the capacity, and has the value to provide services for itself and we still look elsewhere? What about that? What about benefiting from the skills we have, right here, right now?

It’s an awkward question – but, increasingly, it’s one that bears chewing over.

Should, for example, the national/international marketing IFB (International Festival for Business) be handled by (London-based) Seven Hills? The company, self described as a “campaigning communications agency working with corporate clients, entrepreneurs and fast growth businesses” has yet to answer our calls. Suppose that’s because we’re only a Liverpool-based publication, and the regional PR is handed by Paver Smith. You know, Paver Smith which handles national press for national companies. Just not quite capable enough to handle a Liverpool-based event, though eh?

What if the Council offered local companies the chance to pitch first? Would that be so bad? Remember when French radio were forced to play a percentage of home-grown acts? Enter Cassius, Daft Punk, Air, Phoenix and a rejuvenated French music industry?

What about LFC withdrawing its publishing contract from Trinity? Now, say what you like about the Old Hall Street set up, but their Sports Media division produces a fine product- for clubs from Celtic to, get this, Man U. But LFC? They say no (Everton say yes, of course.)

And what of Liverpool ONE? Seen their Liv and Liz campaign? Hold your head in your hands every time it comes on the telly? Us too. Notwithstanding the appalling creative (which was so obviously written by someone who’s only ever seen Liverpool on the telly and not actually visited here) the computer rendering of the ghastly birds is shoddy in the extreme. The executioners? An agency in South Africa!

Recently, one of the best 3D rendering agencies in the country – Liverpool’s Milky Tea – announced the closure of its graphics and animation arm. That they could have produced a far superior product is without question (they’re behind the Lloyds TSB ‘for the journey’ cast of characters.) Could, or should, Liverpool ONE look closer to home?

Of course Grosvenor can choose who they like for their multi-million pound campaigns. But what if the council had an Affirmative Action Tzar? Someone whose role it was to get Grosvenor in front of the city’s best animators, or to get Clarion (the Business Festival organisers) to meet our best agencies. A key person, encouraging inter-city trade, making the connections, joining us up.

Maybe this person exists? If they do, we’ve yet to meet them down Baltic way. We’ve yet to meet anyone.

What about when Liverpool bid to be one of ten cities to take a slice of the Urban Broadband Fund – a £150 million pot set up to create ‘Super-Connected Cities’.

Did the council elicit the support of AIMES – one of the UK’s leading cloud computing companies, based in Wavertree’s Technology Park – when it submitted its bid? No.

The result? Our bid was rejected. And our city’s internet provision lags woefully behind Manchester’s.

Oh, and while we’re at it, should our blameless and lovely new Central Library really have settled for a Costa Coffee-serving cafe? Or Liverpool University’s swish new Redmond’s Building (named after a local entrepreneur couple) really have opted for a Starbucks – surely it could have had faith in the offer of a cafe run by one of its graduates?

Obviously, private companies can spend where they like. But, just as the Independent Liverpool card encourages us to keep money in the city, shouldn’t the same be done when contracts are considered at the Municipal Building?

“The city council will be exposed to greater financial risk as it is now responsible for collecting £92 million of Business Rates at a time when income has flat lined and many companies are struggling” says Joe Anderson, this week. So, surely, we should be doing everything they can to spend money – and show faith – in the talent we have, right here.

14 Responses to “Should Liverpool try a little Affirmative Action?”

  1. Shagpuss

    Most adverts on TV piss me off. Companies trying to flog us stuff we don’t need whilst pretending they actually give a shit about the consumer. The Lloyds TSB one was a particularly steaming turd. Sorry for the people who lost their jobs, but that was one annoying ad.
    As for the Central Library Cafe, it should really be run in-house. Then all the profits can go straight back into the library. The bland, “proud to serve Costa” one they have now is quite a let-down. Proud to serve Costa? What depressing, soulless, corporate bullshit.

    Do I win a prize for most pointless comment/rant of the month? 😉

  2. I love the idea. Unfortunately doing any of this would breach European law. No doubt you can do it covertly as happens the world over, but if you are open about it, or are caught doing it, the EU will fine you heavily.

  3. On one hand, this is a nice theory, but in the interest of fairness, it would need to work both ways. I could reel off a number of government / Arts Council funded initiatives borne from other areas of the UK or gov’t organisations based in other areas of the UK, that commission projects to Liverpool-based companies. Same for football club spend (Rippleffect are retained for several premiership clubs for example).

    The last thing Liverpool needs to become is inward facing from a business perspective. It either moves towards becoming a serious business consideration, as it started to pitch with the International Business Festival (welcoming an open market and subsequently dual flow of cash) or it doesn’t. Can’t have it both ways.

  4. Richard Hector-Jones

    it’s an interesting idea though public sector procurement processes are notoriously complicated. opting for a local provider over another based on geographical preference could leave you open to all sorts of legal problems.

    And as anyone knows agencies that don’t win accounts don’t take it well and are happy to demand costly Freedom of Information requests or even go to court if given the chance (positive discrimination?). A lover scorned etc. As a Manchester based comms person (Creative Concern) who does a lot of work in Liverpool I’d hope that there’s an equivalent of us getting good work outside of the city in places such as Manchester, Leeds, Chester etc.

    There’s also a wider issue of Northwest organisations / businesses opting to go to with London agencies basically because they equate London with being automatically better. This might be the case in some examples but there is also a terrible disconnect with London agencies – especially with PR – that leaves them floundering horribly once they get north of Camden.

    When i used to write for a living the amount of times you’d get phoned up by ‘name’ agencies and asked to attend some launch miles away. “Hi, we’re launching a bar in Newcastle on Thursday. Manchester’s not far is it? You can bring a friend!”. Embarrassing really.

    Businesses need educating to believe in the talent they have on their doorstep, to be proud to invest in local organisations, to have faith in the fact these NW based agencies can easily do as good a job as a big agency at a more competitive price. Given that it’s a matter of education perhaps the city could spend a bit of time meeting these major businesses and pointing out the results driven talent that lies within the city itself. xxx

  5. david_lloyd

    I knew there was a real point to be made somewhere in my groping towards a feature – and that is it. Obviously it should be about the right company getting the right breaks. But with the country being, well, London and the outlying islands, it’s increasingly obvious that we don’t stand a chance if we don’t redouble our fight to show that talent doesn’t end (or begin) at Swiss Cottage. Thank you RHJ.

  6. Pretty sure that favouring local firms is allowed in some circumstances, however even if not simply adding into the pitch requirements:

    “All firms bidding must be able to demonstrate their enthusiasm for, and in-depth knowledge and understanding of, Liverpool, its history, people, society and culture”, combined with in-pitch questioning on the same would easily separate pro-Liverpool bidders from those who just want the cash.

    It’s pretty easy to tell those who “get” Liverpool from those who don’t. It would be purely co-incidental that the majority of bid winners were from Liverpool – simply the others “just didn’t put the effort in”. Where those from out of town did win, their research to win such bids would undoubtedly result in better output.

  7. cheshirecat

    here’s an idea – why don’t they collect direct debit payments when they say they will? I should have been paying each month since April and having contacted THEM to find out what was going on, they took my first (now much higher) payment for 2013/14 in September. If they can’t even collect money that’s ready and waiting for them, I don’t hold out much hope 🙁

  8. While I’d agree with the idea that there are many regrettable untaken opportunities to further local business, I think the examples used in this piece are guilty of having variable contact with reality.

    This is reinforced for me by the reference to Milky Tea. I’ve had sufficient exposure to that company’s operations to suggest that they might be summarised by the phrase “the blind (mis)leading the highly capable”, and for those with insight into the company, the closure is not a great shock. Admittedly, MT could probably have outperformed Liv/Liz in technical execution, but the company had deep and intractable flaws.

    Conversely, from what I’ve heard from employees, AIMES gives every impression of being hugely a capable outfit, and Dennis Kehoe is hardly short on exciting and/or locally-sited projects to manage.

    The point of contrasting these examples is thus that going local implies a risk; some local companies with great reputations can live up to those reputations. Others, well, do so to a lesser extent.

    I’d suggest that a major element in the general reluctance of company and council employees to choose local is the conservative, “no-one ever got fired for buying x” factor. Whether x is Starbucks or IBM, if your company is paying and your job is on the line should things go awry, the temptation may be to go down the path of least risk (and/or resistance), whatever the fiscal or cultural costs to your company or locality.

    Thus I’d suggest that the motives leading us to go with the reliable default option x, may be distinct from those directing our spending as independent individuals. We buy Duke St Espresso Bar, but our companies buy Costa. How do we overcome that factor?

    … I’m also surprised that D. Lloyd has been unable to meet anyone down Baltic way. There are certainly people worth meeting, though said people are usually quite busy what with all of the networking and spark-making they get up to.

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