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The chief executive of Downtown in Business has written to newly-appointed Levelling Up Minister Greg Clark asking him to rethink who makes up the commissioner group which was brought in to run the city council in June 2021.
He says having commissioners from outside Liverpool has led to us stagnating and falling behind other big cities.
“I’ve suggested to him that he gets some Liverpool personalities into that team,” says Frank. “It’s not as if we’ve got a shortage of talent amongst Scousers, people like Louise Ellman, Mike Storey, Phil Redmond, and there’ll be others out there. We need people within that commissioner team who understand the DNA of our city.
“When they were introduced we were told it wouldn’t impact on Liverpool’s growth but now that’s clearly not the case.
“We’ve suffered as a result of the commissioners coming in, the reputation of the city has been damaged, investors have walked away and the planning department has become zombified so there are no new developments being approved or even refused.
“So I think the commissioners up to this point may have been good at identifying problems but they’ve been poor at finding solutions. It’s like they’ve pressed the pause button and not taken their thumb off it yet.
“Now’s the time to draw a line, move on and start coming up with some solutions.”
Frank says the departure of Liverpool City Council chief executive Tony Reeves this week is an opportunity that needs to be taken advantage of.
“As a city we’re at a bit of a crossroads and I think this does give us a chance to reset and we’ve got to take that; to reconnect with the private sector, get business voices heard and get some confidence back into the investor market.”
He believes it will take collaboration between the commissioners – preferably with fresh Liverpool input – the council and private sector to make sure we don’t undo years of hard work convincing people we were a serious city to invest in.
“There are four things that business people regularly tell me they’re feeling and they are frustration, lack of communication, lack of vision and that we’re going backwards.
“Downtown in Business operates across the country, and I know people will say we’re still suffering from the fallout from the pandemic and Brexit, and now the war in Ukraine, but Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham have all bounced back and they’re certainly doing better than we are in Liverpool. I think that’s a combination of the commissioners and inexperienced councillors who haven’t been able to challenge them and push projects forward.
“If we could get some Liverpool voices into that commissioner group, then what we need urgently to do is calm the nerves of business because what we’ve finding now is investors who’ve had a look at the city are either walking away or saying, if this doesn’t change in the next six months then we’re going to have to put our money elsewhere.
“From a business leadership point of view, we have to look at how the private sector is perceiving what’s happening in the Town Hall. It’s no use having messaging which says, we don’t want people to invest in the city if they want to make a profit on development. There’s a naivety there in my opinion among the political leadership and that’s become an issue.”
The way forward, he says, is to build on the successes of the past, rather than being constrained by the failures.
“Only two years ago Liverpool was being praised as a trailblazer in the way it had handled the Covid crisis. One of the things we did superbly well – and our membership was at the centre of this – was the Without Walls initiative. At the time it was a very quick reaction to get the hospitality sector operating again. Why hasn’t someone picked that up and said, how can we now genuinely start to turn Liverpool city centre into a European-style café culture?
“There have been far too many failed schemes in Liverpool, you’ve had people come in and start a project and never finish. What we then need to happen is for us to be a bit more robust in terms of our future development but that risk element has almost disappeared because of a fear of failure.
“So I do have sympathy for the challenges, but equally we can’t go on like this. Other cities are starting to gather momentum again, we’re going to be left behind.
“If we make the same progress over the next two decades as we did over the last two, how fantastic is our city going to be? There’s no reason why we can’t do that, and with the new stadium development at Bramley Moore, work around the Anfield stadium and the Goodison legacy project, north Liverpool is going to start to sing at last which is fantastic.
“We’re a very entrepreneurial city but we’ve got to allow those entrepreneurs, private sector investors, to work closely with the local authority to start to make progress. There are great opportunities, great potential, but the message is you need to start working with us so we can help you deliver a brighter 24 months moving forward than the past 24 months.”
Mayor Joanne Anderson has responded to Frank’s comments:
“Serious issues have been revealed at Liverpool City Council, and the cabinet and I believe that the situation required a significant response.
Last year, the council began its improvement plan which would seek to overhaul the way parts of the council function in order to restore the confidence of residents and businesses. Things simply had to change – and they still do.
We are on a transformation journey, and major reforms and restructures are an important part of that journey. I will always make the difficult decisions that I feel are right for our city.
For me, this has also meant reworking the way the council engages and consults with the people it serves.
I have and continue to work with the business community, listening to and supporting their ideas. However, I am proud to be doing things differently than in years gone by, recognising that only listening to the loudest voices usually isn’t the best way forward.
As Mayor, I have fostered new relationships with businesses, leaders and investors – locally and globally – who are excited by the city’s new, refreshed and transparent approach to business.
Whilst it may not be ‘business as usual’, I’m confident that it is business that is better.”
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