One thing that unites our city most of all is that we hate injustice and unfairness – especially when it’s done deliberately towards us or someone else. It galvanises us to come together and help. Those human instincts are what make a community facing adversity stick and fight together. As you know, the City Council has some serious financial challenges as we continue to deal with the massive cuts that seem just to keep coming, another £90 million up to 2020. It is going to be extremely painful and hard to manage. Since 2010 we will have lost 64% of the Government funding we used to receive – around £600 million. If you bear in mind just one financial fact, it will give you an insight into the financial nightmare we face – Council Tax raises £134 million per year, it costs us £152 million per year to run Adult Social Care. We used to have £174 in reserves we now have less than £10 million.
The unfairness and injustice of our financial crisis is a deliberate act which hurts us all, because the reality is where you live determines the funding your council receives and the quality of services and life you have. The poorest and weakest are getting poorer and weaker, of that there can be no denying. That’s why I am so proud of our staff our partners and you the people of our city as we pull together to help each other.
The austerity measures – or cuts – we have faced as a city and still face means more very difficult challenges lay ahead. For example, our roads are in an appalling condition and getting worse. This financial year we will have spent £18 million in supporting those in most need, the homeless, those being evicted, those living in poverty, or suffering harm. In 2020 we will receive no Government Grant and we will have to totally fend for ourselves. That’s why it’s important we try to grow and develop as a city, bringing-in new businesses and doing innovative, creative things such as “Invest to Earn” as a way of trying to raise new money that we need to pay for and protect our services.
But our successes in 2017 and our plans for 2018 are exciting, credible and sustainable. This is why as the year draws to a close I think we have so much to be proud of and #Hope for the year ahead.
Looking back, striding forward – 2017
What has made me most proud, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, is how our city and staff at the council have just ‘got on with it’. We’re working harder than ever in increasingly challenging circumstances, and continue to deliver outstanding services.
We are determined to provide a first-class service to our older residents and have agreed a £21 million partnership with Shaw Healthcare to build three new residential care hubs for people with dementia and longer-term caring needs. We are making headway in improving the standard of care homes too, with 50 per cent rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, up from 31 per cent last year. There is still work to be done and we will be pushing to further improve our ratings in 2018.
This year also saw us launch an ambitious masterplan for ‘Ten Streets’ – outlining how we will work with partners to develop 90 acres of dilapidated docklands in North Liverpool into a thriving space for the creative industries. Work is well underway on the £1 billion Paddington Village, in the heart of the city’s Knowledge Quarter, too. This has already attracted high profile tenants such as the Royal College of Physicians, with more big names in the field of science and innovation to follow, and with them, job opportunities.
We are working hard to make sure Liverpool’s infrastructure is befitting for a vibrant, strong city. We have invested in a new bridge on the A565, opened a new £6.5million car park on Victoria Street, which will generate a significant income for the council as an Invest to Earn project, fixed 9,600 potholes on the city’s roads and work is set to start next year on a new city centre bus hub, part of the £40 million ‘city centre connectivity scheme’.
There has been much focus on cleaning up our city with four new teams tackling the atrocious fly tipping which is blighting some of our neighbourhoods. Our partnership with Kingdom is helping rid the streets of litter too thanks to a zero tolerance approach and recycling rates are improving thanks to the introduction of new recycling sacks and the expansion of collections to 5,500 city centre apartments.
We also announced a new future for St Luke’s with the appointment of the popular Bombed Out Church Ltd to act as its custodian for the future, and Heritage England took it off its Heritage at Risk register, the latest in a long list of buildings we have saved and preserved for the future.
2017 was an outstanding year for culture with highlights including Sgt Pepper at 50, LIMF and hosting the start of the Round the World Clipper Race. We were also honoured to welcome serving members of the armed forces and veterans when national celebrations for Armed Forces Day were held in Liverpool in June. To round the year off we had fireworks on the Mersey as part of River of Light and our annual Service of Remembrance on St George’s Hall plateau. More than one million people enjoyed our events across the year, with the overall impact of Culture Liverpool boosting the local economy by a cool £36 million.
We continue to push the boundaries on a sporting front too. Well, what do you expect from a city voted UK’s Greatest Sporting City by ESPN?!
We successfully bid to host the World Netball Cup in 2019 and want to follow hot on its heels with the 2022 World Gymnastics Championships – watch this space as our bid develops next year. For those who tuned in to BBC Sports Personality, I’m sure you will agree the arena and indeed the city looked superb.
Of course it was a massive disappointment not to win the UK’s nomination to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. I was incredibly impressed with the bid and couldn’t have asked for a better, more passionate team of people to lead the bid. The bid itself was outstanding and absolutely good enough to win. The plans we had were truly innovative, making use of open spaces and our natural environment to deliver something that would have been jaw-dropping. But make no mistake about it, we are all behind Birmingham now and wish them all the very best in hosting the games in 2022.
2017 of course had its negatives too. Although we will take heart from Labour’s campaign in this year’s General Election, it was heart-breaking to see us face another four years of a Conservative Government. As if their determination to remove funding hasn’t caused enough pain, their incompetence on negotiating Brexit has painful repercussions for all of us.
And yet again, we have the desperate plight of those forced into destitution by this government’s mistakes and uncaring attitude. At Christmas, I worked with the city’s foodbanks to provide a meal and a Christmas experience for those who have very little or nothing, and I have seen first-hand the impact of this Government’s introduction of Universal Credit. I simply cannot understand how anyone who is elected by the people with a duty of care of our nation’s citizens can steadfastly refuse to see the evidence about the harm they are causing. And, as always, our council will be there to pick up the pieces as best we can. We are still the city that provides one of the highest Council Tax Benefits in the country, spends £2.5m on crisis payments – especially for those who have been sanctioned – £2m on hardship grants and £3m on discretionary housing payments. A significant portion of this money, your council taxes, is spent on people who are destitute as a result of welfare incompetence or policy. My New Year’s resolution is to keep calling for change by this Government. But my promise is that Liverpool will be a city that cares and we will continue to focus on the poorest and most needy.
Thanks are due
I could go on listing all the outstanding things we’ve done this year. I wish I could name check every service, every team in the Council, and all our partners because they’ve all made an invaluable contribution and I want them to know that we see that, and we are all very grateful.
However, when I look back over the year, the sacking of Kelvin MacKenzie by News International gave me great satisfaction. What a despicable man. The outcry for him to finally be sacked was too loud to ignore after more despicable comments and, finally, the right decision to get rid of him was made. In the year that finally saw charges brought forward for the tragedy at Hillsborough, it looks like justice is finally coming.
Next year promises to be another year of incredible cultural highlights. To mark ten years since being European Capital of Culture in 2008, there is a full programme of events, conferences and festivals which will inspire our city for another ten years. We’re unveiling more details later in January, but I promise you there is something to excite everyone and, yet again, Liverpool will be seen around the world for the beautiful, exciting and vibrant city that we all know it is.
I have always said that culture is the rocket fuel of our economy, and if we look at the incredible boost to our economy that visitors have made, in hotels, restaurants and bars this focus on showcasing the city will pay off. Liverpool’s arena and exhibition centre for example continues to be a huge success, reaching a turnover of £25m and bringing over £200m economic benefit to the city region. It’s one example, out of many, of the Invest to Earn approach I have been taking to create additional revenue for the city council. When Government decided to remove almost every single penny of funding from the council, we have to be more innovative about how we become more sustainable.
Transforming our city is important as we prepare for the future. Brexit, the economic climate, and more-austerity mean we can’t sit back and be complacent. That’s why in the last few weeks I announced the formation of, Foundations, a Housing Company which will turn Municipal Housing on its head. It will be an opportunity to use our position to create a company that will have a development/commercial arm making us profit and a social arm, where we can help people in many different ways, helping us save money and make money at the same time. It genuinely is the most exciting initiative we as a City have ever been involved in. Housing is crucial to our city.
While the homes we create mean a better quality of life or stability for the people that live in them, we have also learned that the type of houses we have in the city is vitally important. For example, we desperately need more foster families to look after children and give them a loving, caring, start in life. But our city does not have enough larger houses for those who are willing to become new foster parents. Just like we also don’t have enough smaller, ground floor housing for people who want to, or need to, downsize. These smaller homes can be ideal for the elderly or disabled who need level access and suitable adaptations so they can enjoy their home.
But we don’t have enough variety in our housing stock. That’s why our own housing company will fill this gap, offering a mix of housing which will help us meet the city’s needs.
However, the most exciting element is the way we are going to be able to help people buy their own home. I have four kids and five grandkids – with one more on the way – so I know how difficult it can be in this current climate for anyone to buy their first home. Foundations will let people build up a deposit, just by paying their rent. We will become their genuine partners for a new chapter in their lives.
The housing system that’s on offer is a failure, it doesn’t help people get on and get a house either to buy, rent or lease, in my view it can’t be fixed because of its complexity of restrictions. So we need to create something new, different and better and that’s what we will do.
Another important project we launched in 2017 and will grow in 2018 is the Liverpool Promise. Giving a strong start to children in the city is an important part of my own strong political and personal beliefs. This is why when I became leader of the city in 2010 one of the first things I did was put together a rescue plan to replace the government money that had been promised for new schools and was cancelled by the Lib Dems in Government. We’ve rebuilt 17 new schools, meaning at least 18,000 pupils work in new classrooms because of my administration.
But our next focus must be on improving school success rates. It is a huge challenge, but it must be one that the whole city takes on. One reason for this is that Liverpool City Council does not control the schools – we are not able to intervene directly in how any individual school is run. Instead we provide support and assistance to try and help them be the best they can. There are some successes already with 90 per cent of our primary schools having a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rating from OFSTED.
Another reason is that we all have a part to play in making sure our children are educated properly. Parents, extended family, governors and teachers all have a role, but so do businesses and other partners.
The Liverpool Promise is our pledge, alongside schools and stakeholders to drive up attendance and the quality of education in the city to ensure our children get the very best start in life. It’s my commitment to the next generation. I want scousers to be in demand by employers all over the world because we are the best, the hardest working and the smartest. We already know that we are, but now we need to prove it on the exam paper!
The new Everton Stadium is another transformative project for our city, because its reach will be felt all the way along the central docks and into the city centre, including a new Cruise Liner Terminal. Next door to the Ten Streets, the future for this stunning prime location of our city is going to be incredible. We can all look forward to more exciting announcements about the stadium early in 2018.
Things are going well and as soon as there is anything to share, you know me, I’ll share it! I am sure many people will agree that the club has been victim of getting ahead of itself in the past and, so, together we want to make sure everything is done in the right way and secured before anything is made public. The deal will benefit the city financially as well as breathing new life into the north of Liverpool accelerating development and creating thousands of new jobs.
Every year, I write about the challenge of austerity and this Government who are determined to remove all funding for local government and the services you use. A large part of any council’s budget is the money we spend on Social Care, both for adults and children. Like me, you have probably grown up with the expectation that the NHS, and our nation, will look after you from the cradle to the grave. However, with this government’s vicious onslaught on local government we are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the care packages that people need. This affects the elderly, the disabled and this year, more and more local authorities are having problems funding children’s care. This is a fundamental problem with the way local government is financed. Successive governments – of all political parties – have gotten it wrong and that’s why this Tory one has been able to cause so much pain. I want to see a permanent fix for the way the most vulnerable are looked after and this will require some brave thinking from our government about how it is paid for.
I intend to spend 2018 lobbying government for a transformation in the way they fund social care in local government. You as tax payers deserve it and need it, and those who are too sick or frail to speak up are relying on us. I also want to add, that if Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were in Government I am sure we would be able to make a real difference!
Another Government policy that I am going to challenge will have a big impact on the homeless. The Government has a rule about “No Recourse to Public Funds”, which means that we are not supposed to help certain people, normally failed asylum seekers or Eastern Europeans without work – as a result they often end up sleeping on our streets. I am not prepared to stand by and let anyone live in destitution. That’s why I have opened Labre House, the only place in the country for rough sleepers that is open every night, and will provide food, shelter, advice, compassion, and friendship to anyone, regardless of status, who needs help.
The Whitechapel Centre which runs the centre in partnership with Liverpool City Council does an incredible job of helping everyone who comes through their doors. Many people do not realise how much we as a city provide to the homeless. They will help people get off the streets, find the medical help they need, find permanent accommodation and start a new life for themselves. They even provide haircuts! I have met some of the people they are helping and it is truly astonishing what a difference they can make.
The scale of rough sleeping across the country is unprecedented and made worse by Government austerity, but it’s a problem I am determined to tackle here in Liverpool. We help over 7,000 people every year avoid becoming homeless, proof that there is ‘Always Room Inside’.
I also want to thank all the volunteer groups that give time, energy and love to help those who are on our streets. Projects like the Papercup Project and Lawrence Kenwright’s Signature Living and their Kingsway House project, prove that Liverpool has a big heart and together we can make a difference.
Once again, our city has proven it is a remarkable place, filled with laughter, joy, compassion and care. Every year I say Liverpool’s best days are ahead and I still believe that. Incredible things continue to happen here, and I am determined to keep our city moving forward, but many people will also find it tough and if you can help please do so.
Let me end with an old Irish Toast, “In this New Year, May your hand always be stretched out in friendship and never in want”. Happy New Year.
Mayor of Liverpool