As we enter into 2016, I want to issue a heartfelt thank you to all the staff and partners of Liverpool City Council. Every year since 2010 there has been less money available to us and every year our staff work a little harder. It’s a sign of their professionalism and compassion that they work so hard to make sure the services we provide keep running to such a high standard. The whole city should be proud that with even less staff and less money they continue to work so hard, which has not gone unnoticed. I also want to thank my cabinet and councillors who have been very supportive in 2015, not just to me but to the communities they come from. They spend every day passionately arguing for the people and organisations in their neighbourhoods and for best for our city. The sad thing is we could have achieved so much more as a City if we had been treated fairly by this Government. However we know we are not being listened to, although I promise that we will continue to argue our case at the highest level at every opportunity.
Losing 58% of our funding from Government since 2010 means there is simply no way that we could continue working in the same way we used to. We needed to look at new ways of doing things, and work with others. In 2016 we will need to do more of this, but for 2015 I want to thank the community organisations, NHS, CCG, charities, CIC’s, social enterprises and companies who have all helped to reshape our services, keep standards high, and allow facilities like the libraries, children’s centres, leisure centres and youth centres to all stay open.
A VISION FOR LIVERPOOL AND THE BUDGET
We are in the second year of our three-year budget which we agreed in 2014. The most recent Local Government Finance Settlement given in December confirmed what we already know – Government intend to continue the cuts up to 2020, but we will have to make very serious decisions before then.
Next year’s budget (2016-2017) has already been agreed, with a £50m budget cut because of less funding from Government, but there are two very important things we must also do:
Firstly, find a way to respond to an additional £30m of cuts called budget pressures for next year – these are new costs which we have to cover but without extra money to cover them. A good example is social care where on top of falling budgets we also have to cope with increasing demand for our services from a growing population.
Secondly, we must prepare for the 2017-18 budget. After next year, the continued fall in our budget will mean that the money we have will not even cover the costs of our statutory responsibilities – the things we have to do – without changing the way we deliver them. Let me ask you to focus on that for a moment – This Government will not even provide us with enough money to deliver the services we are required to by law. We must make very difficult and vital choices and we need the people of Liverpool to work with us on those choices.
I feel angry that despite being presented with the facts and evidence that prove we are being treated so badly as a City. This Government continues to impose on us the worst financial settlement of all Local Authorities up and down the Country.
I feel so angry, that because of these financial cuts we have had imposed on us, services that will affect thousands of people in this City will be stopped or reduced. Our workforce, as you know, has been reduced by 3000 since 2010. Our financial reserves are spent and the income we get is seriously less than the money we need to spend.
My Cabinet has started talking to all the key organisations in Liverpool about what kind of City we want to live, play and work in. It’s important to know what we want to achieve so that we can start looking at ways of making it happen. How we make these things happen without relying on Liverpool City Council for funding is one of the trickiest challenges of all, but necessary. I have seen some incredible examples of new technology being developed in Liverpool which can help with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other conditions. All of these could help us deliver better, cheaper services and we must be open to the change necessary to make them available.
I have been blown away, for example, by the interest of community organisations to step up and take on the responsibility of running our libraries, which will become better connected to the needs of their local neighbourhoods.
I remember one cabinet meeting about libraries where it was good to see that as well as the campaigners turning up to protest – despite not one library closing – some of the community organisations were also there to tell us what good work they plan to do.
It’s a good reminder that Liverpool has a long, proud, tradition of protest for social change, but we are at our best when we ARE the social change. Liverpool is famous around the world not for complaining about things, but for changing things – the first in public health, the first to appoint a Cabinet Member for fairness, the first to recognise our LGBT Quarter, the first to set up a public art gallery, the first to build municipal housing. Liverpool is best when it decides to set new standards with new ideas.
I am confident most people in Liverpool understand that the extremely difficult choices we have to make are not being made by choice. I didn’t enter politics to cut social care services, but I did enter politics to do everything I can for the most vulnerable in my city. That’s why I will lead our cabinet and council in making a budget which reflects our priorities. For example, most other councils have already scrapped their Council Tax Support Scheme which reduces the council tax bill for the poorest families, because it is discretionary. Liverpool hasn’t. And I can tell you that in the New Year my cabinet will agree to extend it for one more year. The scheme costs £3m to provide and we can’t make guarantees that we will be able to continue after 2017 but for the fourth year in a row – four years more than any other Core City except Bristol, which is much wealthier – Liverpool can proudly say that we will continue to stand by our people.
CITY REGION UPDATE
2015 has also been another very successful year for the Liverpool City Region, negotiating a devolution deal with Government that will bring £900m of new cash and control over another £3bn of existing money.
The secret to success in 2016 for the metro area will be more working together across boundaries and across portfolios. Anyone who argues for a more inward-looking city-region is simply wrong. Each area is dependent on the others for workers, jobs, housing, entertainment, knowledge and a host of other things. From Liverpool’s perspective, our best chances for more economic growth and financial sustainability is for all of the boroughs to grow and prosper. We can’t afford to be parochial about growth.
At my first meeting as Chair of the Combined Authority this month, I introduced a new metro-cabinet with portfolios for each leader. We also talked about the vision for our region and the actions which will take us there. My focus will be on building a Metro Area that will succeed. Phil Davies has earned the thanks and respect of all the leaders from the 6 boroughs, for guiding the process of negotiations through Phase 1, supported by some of the region’s excellent staff.
But next is Phase 2, and the building of capacity to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of 1.5million Merseysiders who want more control over our political decision-making.
We can also run things better here. For example, with social care a lot of money is wasted between the NHS and our Adult Social Care. A stay in hospital costs a lot more than a stay in a care home, and we can do a better job of bringing these two organisations together for a more seamless service.
I believe we can make huge savings which will be ploughed back into the service to deliver better outcomes for the service users and better pay and conditions for the workforce. We need to respond and make changes as we deal with the financial losses in social care which has already lost around £60m from its budget with another £30m cut to come. If we don’t respond as leaders in our Region we will fail those who need us most and we have no time to lose.
These types of issues might not be the subjects which get people out in protest, but they are at the heart of almost every one of Labour’s elected representatives. That’s why us having more integration and control over parts of the NHS in the city-region will be a good thing. I’m not talking about clinicians and operating theatres, but I am talking about where your grandmother can be cared for after surgery and the care packages needed to help people live in their own home.
I know, as do the other leaders, what will work best here – better than any mandarin in Whitehall or a Minister elected in a southern constituency who has never even visited the Liverpool Region. That’s why I have always been so passionate about the city-region and how we can work better together, with a common purpose and shared values.
A GROWING ECONOMY FOR LIVERPOOL
2016 will see the return of the International Festival of Business. 2014 was a huge success and there is every reason to believe the next one will be even better. 2015 has already been one of the busiest years on record for the inward investment team with new companies successfully opening here and creating jobs. IFB will also see the world’s spotlight on Liverpool with many dignitaries from cities and nations around the globe visiting the city and Liverpool Vision will be facilitating introductions to business in and around the Liverpool City Region throughout the festival so that we make the most of these opportunities.
One of the challenges we face is to change the way Liverpool and the Region is seen elsewhere. We have an incredible story to tell, and a surprising one. Liverpool is one of the great cities of the world and it is down to me, to you, to all of us who have an attachment to Liverpool, to share our amazing renaissance across the UK and the world.
Liverpool is a sporting city, a city of music and the arts, a maritime city, a business city, a shopping city, a dynamic city, a manufacturing city, a creative and innovative city, a digital city, a knowledge and scientific city.
When we show all this potential to people around the world, they can’t wait to be a part of it. Several months ago I travelled to Birmingham, Alabama, to sign a sister cities agreement with the city. During the announcement, held in a centre for start-up businesses a lot like our Baltic Quarter, a business owner stood up and unprompted announced her intention to open an office in Liverpool – that is the power of our brand. During that trip three other companies also expressed an interest in opening offices in Liverpool – again creating new jobs for people in the city.
We are anticipating some very significant jobs news in early 2016 and we will say more about those when they are confirmed. But for 2015, our success is clearly on display in the cranes in the city centre with over £1bn of investment is currently on-site in Liverpool. That’s why in 2014 our economy outperformed the whole of Greater Manchester. The City Region Devolution Deal is the start of a journey not the end of one. I believe real positive change will come from a programme for our future authored by ourselves. In the next few months we will engage with you, listening and sharing your thoughts as we reveal this programme, I am sure you will be excited by our vision for the City Region and its future.
PROGRESS ON MY MAYORAL PLEDGES
When I first stood for election as Mayor of Liverpool in 2012 I made five simple pledges. Most of them we reached in 2015 and we are still working hard on them because they make such a difference to people’s lives. Some highlights:
- I promised to build 5,000 homes. We have built 5,500 new homes and refurbished 1,700 empty properties
- I promised to build 12 new schools. We have built 14, with 5 more on-site and under construction
- I promised to create 20,000 new jobs. Around 25,000 jobs have been created.
- I promised a cleaner, greener city. We have created over 67 acres of new and improved green and open space and planted over 2,000 trees.
- I promised a business friendly city. IFB has improved sales for 3,000 companies, while Liverpool Vision has assisted over 1,300 existing companies and helped another 300 businesses start-up.
BEST WISHES FOR 2016
2016 will be a year where we shape the next chapter in Liverpool’s history. The biggest revolution in local government will be around the corner. Devolution will give us more control over our destiny than ever before, while funding cuts put on display the cruellest and vindictive nature of this Conservative government.
We must work together for the benefit of our city. It will require us to do things we haven’t done before and work with people we haven’t worked with. It is exciting that we can do so much more with our partners and the other boroughs of the metro area but upsetting that, even together, we won’t be able to do everything we need to do.
I have often spoken of the Tale of Two Cities, where one city prospers and the other is unfairly beaten and bludgeoned. When I met Jeremy Corbyn he agreed with me about the despicable nature of this government’s austerity agenda. But he also agreed with me that the only response is to work together. I am confident we can still prosper, still make our city more financially sustainable so that we can look after the most vulnerable. Those are my values and I think they are Liverpool’s too.