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Could big-hitters behind Manchester and Leeds success help Liverpool to think big and bold

2 years ago

Could big-hitters behind Manchester and Leeds success help Liverpool to think big and bold

Two of the driving forces behind the regeneration of Manchester and Leeds are being brought in to help re-shape the future of Liverpool.

And business leader Frank McKenna says that’s good news for the city – and it could be the start of the kind of bold ambitious thinking we deserve.

Levelling Up Secretary Greg Clark has announced he will set up a strategic advisory panel, led by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, which will work closely with the city council to develop skills, jobs and opportunities.

The panel will include Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of the City of Manchester from 1999 to 2017, and Baroness Judith Blake who, as Leader of Leeds City Council, was instrumental in bringing Channel 4 to Leeds.

Frank believes having those kind of big-hitters fighting Liverpool’s corner could make a real difference to the city’s fortunes.

“You look at their track record and those are two names you can’t fail to be impressed with,” he says.

“I’ve worked with Howard for over 25 years in different guises and he has an ability to see things that nobody else sees, long before it becomes obvious to everyone else.

“He championed the tram system in Manchester in a way that thought far beyond, let’s just get a tram running around the city. He thought, how can we connect the whole of Greater Manchester? As a result you’ve got that network which has acted as the economic driver to create a load of jobs.

“He has that kind of vision and I think that’s what we need. I think we’ve too often settled for mediocre, both around of some of the developments that have been allowed to take place, but also in having the ambition. We haven’t been ambitious enough to go and get some of the big names into the city, and be bold and a bit more courageous in thinking of ways to do that.

“If you look at Manchester over that period when he was there, the whole city centre in terms of its commercial and economic development absolutely boomed. There was no lack of ambition there.

“So you’ve got to have the vision, but equally you’ve got to have that ballsyness to put your chest out and say ‘we’re Liverpool, we do deserve the best. Mediocre isn’t good enough for us anymore’.”

Frank, who is chief executive of Downtown in Business, says having some kind of long-term goals is crucial.

“What we need in Liverpool at this moment is somebody who can think long-term, because as a business community we feel as though you’ve got local authority commissioners putting out fires and finding all sorts of challenges, but what’s the plan?

“I think what Howard, Judith and Steve, and others who join the panel, will start to do is outline some future direction for Liverpool which is hugely important because we all need some hope, to think ‘it’s not great now, but here’s how we’re going to get out of this’.

“This could be an opportunity to move the dial now and with those sort of people sat round the table you would hope that we’d be able to create a plan that was all those things we’d want it to be: visionary, innovative and bold and ambitious.”

As for coming in from what are often seen as ‘rival’ cities, there’s a football comparison to be had according to Frank.

“I’ve seen some people on social media saying, ‘wouldn’t it have been better to have people with Liverpool’s best interests at heart?’ but I’d say to them – it’s like Evertonians complaining if we signed Mo Salah!

“You get the best people for the job, and I think Howard and Judith would be in anybody’s team if they had a chance to take them.

“I know they will be very keen to get under the bonnet of Liverpool as a city and they’ll want to talk to stakeholders and businesses and get their views and take onboard some of the things we’ve been saying for some time now.

“Having a group of people who are seen as credible, like they are, gives the investment market confidence – uncertainty scares investors away – but it’s also about having investable propositions.

“We’ve got opportunities around Kings Dock, the Knowledge Quarter and the big one is North Liverpool with Bramley Moore Dock because that can be a catalyst for massive transformation and regeneration.

“This is a chance to say to creatives and to investors, we’ve got a blank sheet here, can we start to look at some of the things we might be able to achieve in that swathe of land that is Liverpool Waters and North Liverpool? If you have the right sort of vision and the right sort of people involved, you could create something really special.”

Find out more about Frank and Downtown in Business HERE.

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