I am often asked what to date has been my biggest achievement as Leader/Mayor of Liverpool. They expect the answer to be a ‘moment’ such as bringing the Giants to the city, or the 4700 new homes built or the pace of the schools rebuilding programme, or unlocking the regeneration projects of Edge Lane and Project Jennifer, or the £1.7bn of public and private development on site in the city – something visible, something tangible.
These are major achievements, but in my view the biggest, yet least talked about, has been how we have been managing the most serious financial challenges ever faced by our city.
Let me remind you of the scale of the situation. Government has cut our funding by 58%. Starkly, that is a reduction from £514 million four years ago to £294 million today – with more to come. The fact that we have been able to keep our City functioning, albeit with reduced services is remarkable.
I have always been honest and open about our finances and that’s why we have made all the financial information available to anyone who wishes to see it on our website. I have never tried to scaremonger or overstate the challenges we are facing. I have simply tried to make it easier for people to understand by showing the problems we face and that we face together.
The Government’s recent Autumn Statement and the assessments made by independent organisations warned us what to expect – further massive cuts to Liverpool and other cities. The Office for Budget Responsibility stated we would see cuts “beyond recognition” and the Institute for Fiscal Studies said: “we will see cuts on a colossal scale”.
Then on the eve of Christmas we handed another ‘gift’ by Government in the Local Government package. Our funding was to be cut further – another £56 million. I actually expect this to increase as we reveal the smoke and mirrors this Government uses to hide how bad the news is.
As I said recently, imagine the Ministry of Defence (MOD) having to cut its budget in the same way. It would mean getting rid of the Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force – and still be expected to defend the country.
So what does this mean for Liverpool the services we deliver and for our future? It’s been hard and it will become harder. My approach is to continue to run the city in a pragmatic and honest way, as we have done since 2010. I believe that the vast majority in Liverpool share the same values and beliefs that I do – of fairness and helping those most in need. There is no magic wand, nor is there going to be a change in Government that won’t make cuts. I do believe, however, that only a Labour Government will ensure a fairer distribution of funding to those who need it most.
Yet, even if that happens, it will remain tough and challenging. Now more than ever we and I mean we, need to come together to survive and thrive. We simply have no other choice than to manage the limited amount of money we have, in the best way we can, while doing our best to protect the most vulnerable among us.
There will be the usual dissenting voices arguing for a needs-led budget (an illegal one) and a political opposition which will oppose everything we do, yet offer few if any viable solutions of their own.
I know though we are on the right track. A just-published report shows Liverpool is one of the top five performing cities for good growth in the post-recession period from 2011-2013.
PWC’s 2014 Good Growth for Cities study indicates the city is heading in the right direction economically and socially. Their index looks at a number of issues such as jobs, health, income, skills, housing, transport and environment to assess Good Growth, meaning it is a more balanced measure than just jobs or GVA (Gross Value Added).
The data supports the Centre for Cities Monitor 2014 published earlier in the year, which found that Liverpool had the fifth highest level of private sector jobs growth between 2010 and 2012.
The PWC study also shows that Liverpool has seen the fourth largest rise in income per head; the largest improvement in income equality; and the second most improved city for private/public sector balance.
It’s highly encouraging, but we are nowhere near out of the woods yet, but it shows our foundations are strong. I want Liverpool to be sustainable, not only in the green sense (although this is hugely important to me and this Administration), but also in terms of our ability to rely on our own revenue and reduce our dependence on Government for grants. The way we do this is to continue to grow our own economy and change the way we do things. That’s why my ‘Invest to Earn’ strategy has been so important. Generating revenue from the City Council’s investments is a powerful and sensible long-term decision. Places like Finch Farm and the Cunard Building will provide income for the city for many years to come.
Clearly a huge issue in 2015 is the devolution of powers from Whitehall to the cities and regions and that can only happen if Government distributes money more fairly and recognises the need to involve the whole country in the national imperative of growing the whole of our economy, and equitably. Rest assured I fight for this every day.
Rebalancing our economy means rebalancing Government spending. Together with the other Core Cities, Liverpool has been arguing the case for greater investment in the major infrastructure projects which will deliver a transformational impact on our city. HS2 and HS3 offer the opportunity to improve radically the way we can transport freight from our port, and the huge economic opportunities that brings.
First, though, that requires financial fairness from Government. It is no longer right that the richest areas in our country become richer while the poorest areas – already coping with losing hundreds of millions of pounds – become poorer. Nor can it be right that London receives so much more funding for transport projects than everywhere else. And, it can no longer be right that Government can decide how much to spend using the unfathomable and antiquated Barnett Formula, especially when the man who came up with it believes that it is not fit for purpose. It beggars belief, quite frankly – it’s a formula for failure!
In Liverpool many have agreed to stand and work together to find new and innovative ways to work, and so must Government and Local Authorities. In Liverpool City Region we must be bold enough to accept new ways of working and push our region to the top.
I know this year is going to be another exciting one for Liverpool as we again invite the world to witness and enjoy our excellence and hospitality. Our visitor economy is a marvel and the fastest growing part of our economy and we continue to see the burgeoning impact of facilities like the Arena and Convention Centre, the Cruise Terminal and the soon-to-be opened Exhibition Centre on jobs and investment. This year we will also welcome the Three Queens as part of Cunard’s 175th Anniversary celebrations, and with it a predicted one million people to be part of what is set to be a truly historic spectacle on the Mersey.
We have also had success over the past year in attracting large private sector employers like H2 Energy, Amey, BT, TNT Post and Seadrill to relocate here, creating around 1,500 jobs. I know more will follow in the wake of the tremendously successful International Festival for Business last year.
The IFB not only displayed Liverpool’s and the city region’s business credentials, but those of the UK and so successful were we as hosts, Government committed, even before the festival concluded, to supporting a reprise in 2016. This is important for Liverpool, for our image and reputation, for growing our economy and building a sustainable future for generations to come. Other cities have their specialist events which come to define them – the Edinburgh Festival and Manchester International Festival spring to mind – and I want Liverpool to be defined as the place where business comes to do deals and win new export opportunities.
I’ve worked hard to provide a new and refreshing approach to business and to make sure we really are a ‘can-do’ City Council that is working hand-in-hand, forging partnerships with business to create new relationships at home and overseas to deliver the growth we desperately need and deserve.
This city is well known for its team work and for pulling together in pursuit of a common goal. I have built my cabinet on a similar model of dedication, passion and enthusiasm and I am proud of how it and all of our Labour councillors are working hard together and with others to triumph with the hand that has been dealt us. All of them are fighting for fairness; supporting our communities; protecting the young and old; meeting the challenges of the cuts; identifying areas for innovation; making our money stretch further; and developing new and robust partnerships. This joint working was one of the reasons we were able to commit to saving all of the libraries, despite the need to make a cut in the service worth millions. I warmly thank all those who were involved and are assisting in protecting other threatened services.
I must also pay tribute to all the staff of the Council and LDL for working so hard in extremely difficult circumstances and to the Trade Unions. I am very proud to be supported by such a group of hardworking and dedicated people who work under the banner of public service.
I am keenly aware that it hasn’t been easy and 2015 will be just as difficult for staff. Everyone is expected to take on more responsibility and work harder to deliver more services with less resource and I am grateful to every single one of them for the extra effort made over the last couple of years. It is because of these people who work for Liverpool and our citizens that I am confident we can still deliver for the whole city.
I am hugely ambitious for our City, the opportunities we have here are real and within reach. A City without ambition is one that stands still and my promise to you is that Liverpool, under my leadership, will always try to move forward and be rightly regarded as a City in which things can happen.
I am so honoured to be your Mayor and despite the challenges I am truly excited every day to work for you and for Liverpool. We’ve already achieved so much, but there is much still to be done and I assure you that I will use all at my disposal to make our great city the place we all know it can and should be.
I thank you for your support and I sincerely wish you all a happy and prosperous 2015.