Only in recent years has there been the rise in the public’s mind of a rivalry between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester (football excepted!). It was never so – they were traditionally complementary cities, Liverpool as a commercial hub and Manchester as a manufacturing one.Those days, of course, have well and truly gone.
Yet there is a glimmer of the old spirit of mutually advantageous co-operation (remember, it was Manchester businessmen who set up the old Mersey Docks and Harbour Board) with the election of Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham as metromayors. Both have expressed a commitment to joint working between the two great city regions, to the benefit of all. However, one must ask how realistic that is. The varying fortunes of the two cities at the heart of these conurbations may mean very different outcomes for each of the wider city-regions.
Manchester has been far more successful in recent years than Liverpool, and its neighbouring boroughs have benefitted. When Mrs Thatcher abolished the old metropolitan counties, Manchester led its associated councils constructively, coalescing around their joint ownership of their very successful airport. The extent of their ongoing success was emphasised by the cast-iron investment of £1 billion recently by Chinese investors.
Despite the fact that Liverpool is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, and that we are twinned with super-rich Shanghai, our name is being besmirched with investors in China and elsewhere by the scams perpetrated in the Liverpool development bubble. Worse still, these scams are considered by Asian investors to be endorsed by the city council. Such a view endangers investment across the whole of the city-region.
Put yourself in the position of a potential investor. Their first concern is the security of their investment, regardless of the returns promised. In a competitive investment environment, the investor would, in their own form of due diligence (ironically, not a strength of Liverpool City Council), make comparisons with similar opportunities in similar cities. What do they see, for example, in Manchester? They see a record of success, based on stability, continuity, and competence in local government. When they look at Liverpool, they may be excused for taking fright.
We have a mayor who has in succession, despite being spectacularly unqualified, taken on responsibility for finance, regeneration and the duties of chief executive. Meanwhile, we have a (paid) chief executive on long term leave having been arrested on charges of conspiracy and intimidation. We have a cravenly supine council hiding their heads in the sand whilst self-styled developers of very doubtful character run riot. A city that is at odds with UNESCO over its World Heritage Site status whilst it lacks the planning professionals capable of dealing with high-end planning matters.
A local businessman with whom I spoke, was very pessimistic. A man with an extensive and successful investment track record, he told me that he had made no significant investment in Liverpool for seventeen years. When I asked why, he said “I do not want to sit in the same room as the people who you have to deal with in the council”. If that is a local view, what must outside interests think when they look at the Chinatown debacle, or the Paramount “development”?
Bear in mind that this is not just a Liverpool issue. As the core city, Liverpool reflects on each borough in the city-region. We all want to see inward investment and development across all six boroughs; but that is jeopardised if the city-region, viewed through the prism of Liverpool, is seen as either a poor risk, or – worse still – as fertile ground for crooks.