This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Liverpool - boom or bust?

I have just returned from a visit to Liverpool where all my family come from and the city is booming.

For those southerners who might not know, Liverpool is officially ‘European Capital of Culture 2008’.

Building cranes crowd the skyline. The city centre is getting spruced up.

The Lib-Dem Council hopes 2008 will be the ‘rocket fuel’ for Liverpool’s economy, delivering more tourists and creating new jobs.

£2 billion has already been spent by private and public organisations regenerating the waterfront. Grosvenor Estates has completed a £920 million shopping complex – Liverpool One – in the heart of the city.

And investment in the Walker Art Gallery and the new Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT) help to tick all the right culture boxes.

The Department of Culture believes 2008 will be spectacular. Its website claims, “It will showcase the best of Britain’s cultural sector and leave a lasting legacy for the City of Liverpool and the whole of the UK.”

The Council insists 2008 will transform Liverpool’s economy and signal a fresh start for a city that was once synonymous with the word ‘decline’.

According to Mersey Partnerships (the quango set up to promote tourism in Liverpool) Capital of Culture will generate 1.7 million extra visits, £2 billion worth of investment and 14,000 new jobs.

Glasgow, the last UK city to hold the title in 1990, certainly seems to have benefited from the prize. 30,000 people are now employed in the leisure and tourism sector, which last year generated £700 million. £3 million went to local arts projects.

Liverpool hopes to copy Glasgow’s success.

Warren Bradley, the Council Leader, believes the Culture prize “has meant regeneration has been given a boost, putting Liverpool back on the map and putting back a sense of pride in (its) residents.”

But it will be an uphill struggle.

The Department for Communities and Local Government reckons Liverpool is still the most deprived place in the UK.

It has a job growth rate of 9%, above the 4% national average but with 60,000 people still unemployed. This is 15% of the city’s population, the equivalent of a match day crowd at Anfield.

In the city’s poorer wards like Speke or Kensington long-term unemployment is as high as 60%, with youth unemployment particularly bad.

“Its not that we aren’t proud Liverpool won. God know we deserve it…but what will culture do for people round here? These kids need training and jobs, not more museums,” says 74 year old pensioner Alice Ashley.

To its credit, the Council is trying. Its flagship “Creative Communities” programme hopes to regenerate local areas at a grass roots level through creativity and culture.

But not everyone is convinced.

Joe Anderson, the leader of the Labour opposition, is worried the year will be a missed opportunity.

“It will do nothing to address acute social divisions and unless we do things differently and stop being city centre focused it will just accelerate the existing patterns of inequality.”

He has a point. Although, Glasgow’s economy received a boost from the Culture year, many of Glasgow’s suburbs remain poor. Jobs were created but many of them were low-skilled and low-paid. The fear is the same could happen in Liverpool.

But people are beginning to realise that it will take more than a city centre revamp to tackle the long-term problems of unemployment and poverty.

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