‘Businesses must be at heart of Levelling Up’

Businesses across Liverpool city region must be ready to step up and help deliver the Levelling Up agenda, the head of Liverpool Chamber says. Tony McDonough reports

Paul Cherpeau
Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. Picture by Gareth Jones

 

Businesses must be ready to take the lead if the Liverpool city region is to fully benefit from the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, the head of Liverpool Chamber says.

Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of the chamber, issued his call to action the day after the Government published its Levelling Up White Paper. He called for “more clarity” so that businesses can play a greater role in the transformation.

In the White Paper Secretary of State Michael Gove outlined his plans to re-invigorate the regions outside of London. Central to his plan is greater devolved spending powers and the creation of more regional mayors and faster digital connectivity.

Paul Johnson, director of  think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, gave the paper a cautious welcome but added there was a big question mark over funding. He said: “This White Paper recognises the scale of the levelling up challenge.

“That lack of quick fixes, the long term perspective, and clarity about objectives are all very welcome, as is the recognition that real progress will require a change in governance in Whitehall and beyond.”

READ MORE: Number of Merseyside firms hits record high

However, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram was more sceptical, saying: “If we were genuine about levelling up, this would address regional inequalities like health conditions, life expectancy, educational attainment, skills levels, job opportunities and certainly transport connectivity. That’s not what this paper does.”

Mr Gove’s strategy made little specific reference to the Liverpool city region, which already has a range of devolved powers. Merseyside has traditionally been over-reliant on the public sector and Mr Cherpeau said it was time the private sector took the lead.

He explained: “Businesses in the Liverpool city region will now be eager to understand how the Levelling Up white paper translates into a set of effective measures which directly improves their own prospects to grow, attract talent and create wealth in their communities.

“While the latest announcements appear to have limited direct impact on our own region, our approach to economic development must fundamentally recognise the value of successful businesses and they must be placed at the heart of our efforts to stimulate better outcomes around issues such as health inequality and social mobility.

“The Liverpool city region has its own unique challenges and opportunities. To truly level up, we need a strong and diverse business community in an environment that encourages growth and enables external investment, where the public and private sector work together towards a common purpose.”

Former Deputy Prime Minister and former ‘Minister for Merseyside’, Lord Heseltine, said Mr Gove is right to point out there are “no short-term” fixes. Writing in The Guardian, Lord Heseltine said that “failure of public policy” over the last half-century had left behind an administrative mess that could not be cleared quickly.

“An observer could very well ask what the point of all this is,” he added. “The answer is set out in the white paper’s 12 mission statements that cover virtually every aspect of modern life.

“Machinery is to be put in place to monitor progress against targets set for each of these criteria. A quango is to be set up to report on the facts. Joint select committees of both houses of parliament should keep close to this process.

Lord Heseltine
Lord Heseltine agreed there would be ‘no quick fixes’. Picture by Tony McDonough
Steve Rotheram
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram is sceptical about the plan. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

“I tried something similar in the 1990s with my white paper on competitiveness. It provided an invaluable source of criticism for the opposition. Annual comparative statistics tend not to survive long in the heat of party politics.

“It is inevitable that the first question many will pose in response to the White Paper is how much more money is promised. But it is the wrong question. Huge capital programmes flow into every part of our country every year. The right question is how relevant are these sums to the needs and priorities of local opportunities.”

Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Martime which represents hundreds of businesses in Liverpool city region’s £4bn maritime sector believes the paper’s vision to “resonates strongly” with the work of a regional cluster organisations.

“Mersey Maritime has long championed the needs, aspirations and opportunities that coastal communities represent both for the regional economy in which we sit and indeed the nation as a whole,” he said. “We welcome the publication of this much anticipated flagship government policy paper but we’d like to see it go further and to put coastal areas at its heart.

“To be truly meaningful and transformational, levelling-up can’t just be about a narrow north/south or urban/rural perspective. We know that our coastal towns and cities are amongst the most deprived communities across the country and that the life chances of people who live in them can often be considerably worse than in other areas.

“Young people often don’t see the coast as being somewhere where they can get the best possible start in life, secure a great job and contribute to the regional economy by living and working there in the long term. It doesn’t have to be that way.

“That’s why we’d like to see greater emphasis from the government on the need to respond to the unique challenges faced by the coast but with an understanding that there is an industry ready and waiting to help lead the change we all want to see.

“Mersey Maritime was proud to play it’s part in the publication of a Coastal Powerhouse Manifesto, launched at London International Shipping Week last September, in collaboration with our key partners, Maritime UK and a range of others. This practical and oven-ready paper sets out how we can grow the maritime sector in coastal economies and realise the ambition that the Levelling-Up White Paper aspires towards.”

Michael Sandys, Liverpool city region lead for the Federation of Small Businesses agreed businesses needed more clarity and support if they are to play their part in Levelling Up local communities.

He explained: “To ensure Levelling Up is a success, small businesses must be front and centre, with improvements made to connectivity, business support and skills development across the UK.

“The focus that the Government has put on locality, rejuvenating town centres and high streets, where the majority of businesses are small, is welcome.  However, the devil will be in the delivery. In the towns and areas of the country where it is most important to level up, small businesses are not short of ambition and want to flourish and grow.

“Our research shows half of small business owners in these ‘less favoured areas’ are striving to become a business leader in their community. They need significant support if we are to make meaningful changes to communities and tackle regional inequalities.”

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