After my last two blogs on the Greater Manchester economy which took a bullish view of the conurbation’s growth; it is time to look at the surprising claim that Merseyside is outpacing its neighbour.
In the run-up to the International Festival of Business, I am looking at the economic prospects of our three city areas, including Preston which I will review next week.
City Metric, a New Statesman magazine urban website, claims that over the last twenty years Liverpool has grown faster than any other city apart from London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. The reasons for this range from the fact that it started from a low base, benefitted from the legacy of Capital of Culture 2008, built the Echo Arena and opened the 42 acres of Liverpool One shopping. In addition, the subregion has seen an influx of students, land is affordable, and it has received over £2bn in European aid. Whether Whitehall will be as generous in the post Brexit era is a question for another day.
Responsibility for strategic economic growth in the Liverpool City Region rests on the shoulders of Mayor Steve Rotheram. A former bricklayer he helped Joe Anderson win the city for Labour in 2010 before reluctantly becoming an MP. He told a recent Downtown event that he thought the parliamentary procedure book called Erskine May, was a girl! Despite having little enthusiasm for the old-fashioned procedures of parliament he did remarkable work on the Hillsborough justice campaign and became parliamentary aide to Jeremy Corbyn despite voting for Andy Burnham for leader.
Both he and Andy Burnham quit Westminster to take up the mayoral conurbation jobs and work closely together. They are both demanding more power to make their economies work. They are particularly frustrated that they have no direct power over organisations like Network Rail or the Highways Agency(HA).
It seems the HA is aware of the growing complaints of the mayors. Tim Gamon, Regional Delivery Director for Highways England, recently claimed his organisation was conducting more consultation than ever before on eight major road improvement schemes across the North West. These include finishing the M60 smart motorway project, improving connections between the M67 at Hyde and the MI at Sheffield, to better links to Fleetwood and the Rimrose Valley project to upgrade links between the Port of Liverpool and the motorway network.
The mayors probably back these schemes but have little power over what they see as unaccountable national agencies. The mayors claim the North will always suffer from the Treasury’s Benefit Cost Ratio formula which favours the South East because of its huge commuter population and high land values.
Even with the good news on growth, the Liverpool City Region suffers from low skills. Rotheram says he’d like to get his hands on £1.28bn that lies unspent in the apprenticeship levy pot.
Future economic targets for the Mayor include bringing the Spanish train builder Talgo to St Helens, and progress on the Mersey Barrage.
Rotheram has less power than Andy Burnham who includes NHS spending in his portfolio as well as police and fire. The complication for Rotheram is that his region includes Halton which is under Cheshire for police and fire. Consequently, when Jane Kennedy stands down as Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) for the Liverpool City Region, she will have to be replaced as Halton has a different PCC.
Tensions between Joe Anderson, the city mayor, and Rotheram at the region, seem to be easing, allowing the hope that both Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region can prosper. But what about Preston?
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