Making Liverpool Prosper Beyond ’08 – The Debate
Regeneration has been headline news in Liverpool these past few weeks, as the debate continues about Dr. Tim Leunig and his Policy Exchange report, Cities Unlimited, in which it is suggested that Liverpool’s time is over. This evening Prof. David Robertson of Liverpool John Moores University and Dr Leunig of the London School of Economics presented their opposing views on Liverpool’s future in Liverpool Cathedral.
True to the demands of academic candour, both speakers offered evidenced-based if very different understandings of the harsh reality of modern day Northern city economic prospects.
There was no contest in terms of the evidence presented in Cities Unlimted; the debate promoted by Dean Justin Welby this week, on Thursday 16 October 2008, was about what the established socio-economic data on Liverpool means, and whether it alone can tell us what is likely to happen to Liverpool as a city.
Interpreting the evidence
For Tim Leunig – an economist and authority on the history of the cotton trade – the essential message was, ‘Liverpool’s time is past’. He was, he said quite obviously sincerely, very sorry about this, and he didn’t wish anyone to be upset, but that’s how he believes things are.
For David Robertson – a policy adviser to the Government on life-long learning – the message was rather more upbeat, ‘Liverpool’s fate is in its own hands; everything’s now up for grabs.’
And of course for some people, though probably not so many of those in the audience, the real issue might well have been, ‘What’s your problem? Liverpool’s great anyway.’
An opportunity to make a point
A similar debate, also chaired by Roger Phillips, was held in the Cathedral just last year, as part of the farewell events organised by the then Dean, Rupert Hoare, when he and leading local expert John Flamson invited us to debate The Future of Liverpool’s Economy at a well-attended seminar on Saturday 27 January 2007, in the Lady Chapel…. and this event in turn followed in the footsteps of Dean Hoare’s illustrious predecessor, Dean Derrick Walters, a man for whom, alongside his calling, hard-headed and warm-hearted regeneration was a way of life.
As last time, the current debate offered an opportunity for those who have considered Liverpool’s prospects carefully to make their point. Even the most optimistic were agreed that a step change is required in how plans for progress should be viewed.
… and to face up to the facts
The message of hope, for those who wish to hear it, is – as indeed we have consistently argued on this weblog – that things can change. History tells us what’s already happened, not what will happen.
Currently, Liverpool isn’t that good at creativity and innovation (it doesn’t feature in the Intellectual Property or patent stakes) and there are many challenges for educational, health and other major features of the local population. But with a will to achieve, things can be done.
We need to make a frank assessment of where Liverpool’s going. History is in the past, not a predictor of what is yet to come about. To quote David Robertson:
What we’ve inherited can be unpacked for the future.
The moment of truth has arrived for Liverpool… We need to understand the limits of what we can do, to understand our strengths and focus on how we can succeed.
An enduring analysis
This was the message in the Cathedral last year, it’s the message now, and it will continue to be the message.
I just hope enough people in this city are beginning to listen.
Read more about The Future of Liverpool.
For further commentary on this debate see Larry Neild’s article, a report in the (Liverpool edition of) the Daily Post and the account by Adrian McEwen.