In recent years, Liverpool has been on a £14bn regeneration journey to establish itself as one of the UK’s leading business destinations. Often at the end of joke regarding work ethic and employment, the city has shed its previous image and is now a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. Business Leader Magazine brought together a group of city experts to discuss the bright future for the city.
Damian Waters – CBI North West Director
Frank McKenna – Chair, Downtown in Business
Jacqueline Daley – Senior Business Adviser, The Women’s Organisation and Enterprise Hub
Dan Hughes – Founder, ThisGeneration PR
Adam Sutton – Founder, Adam Sutton Estates
What are the strengths of Liverpool from a business perspective?
Waters: “The city of Liverpool is a globally-recognised brand, thanks to its historic industrial strength and diverse contributions to popular culture, not least through music and sport. Contemporary Liverpool features a modern and vibrant city centre and a diverse economy, supported by world-class universities. Strength sectors include advanced manufacturing, science, digital and creative, health and life sciences, innovation, professional services, freight and logistics, and a thriving visitor economy.”
McKenna: “The city is very entrepreneurial, so there is no shortage of innovation, positivity, and ambition. The sense of the business community is strong, so there are a good number of support networks. On a practical level, the commercial space is relatively cheap and transport connections, locally and to the rest of the country are decent. There are, literally, dozens of major ‘shovel ready’ projects that can be delivered in the next three to five years.”
Daley: “Liverpool is a thriving hub for businesses to establish themselves within the North West of the UK. With transport links both nationally and internationally, this is a huge strength for any business where location is a factor for consideration.
“In addition, the cost of living in Liverpool is very reasonable, making it a great place to employ people, with many highly-skilled graduates, who have attended one of the multiple local universities preferring to remain in the city, giving it a diverse cultural environment with a plethora of talent at your fingertips. With continual investment into the world of business across the city region, Liverpool not only offers support to new opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, but even for those more established organisations it has a wealth of assistance to encourage and maintain growth.
“Based on the waterfront, with a bustling city life bordered by beaches and rural countryside, Liverpool is well situated to engage with any type of business, appealing to an abundance of sectors, with a high rate of tourism that can be pursued by certain business types.”
What are its weaknesses?
Hughes: “I think in some parts of the country there is still a very dated perception of Liverpool, which goes back to the 1980s. It is a misguided perception and it has thankfully diminished significantly but we still have a job to do to showcase the vibrant, culturally rich, business-friendly and modern city that it is today.”
Daley: “Historical perceptions of the city have, at times, held it back from the forefront of minds for those looking to set up a business within the area, perhaps overlooking Liverpool due to long-standing and inaccurate or outdated opinions, based on ‘hand me down’ assessments that are more often than not from people who have never even visited the city.
“The city continues to develop at pace, and improvements will continue to be made where needed, raising the profile of Liverpool in a positive light through ongoing development throughout the city region and beyond.”
Waters: “In common with many other UK cities, Liverpool would benefit from improved mainline rail connections, though projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail – supported by the recent Northern Infrastructure Pipeline plan – will help to address this need.
“Additional high-quality office space would be an important improvement and create fresh opportunities for businesses to base themselves in Liverpool and grow there too.”
How would you describe its relationship with other nearby business destinations, towns and cities?
McKenna: “Through the devolution deal and the Combined Authority, Liverpool’s links with its immediate neighbours are good, although I do get the impression that on occasion the tail is wagging the dog. The city continually needs to remind the surrounding boroughs that it is the economic driver for the city region. The relationship with the other core cities, particularly Manchester, is positive and there are an increasing number of joint projects with Northern Powerhouse partners.”
Waters: “There’s an old saying that Liverpool is the capital of North Wales, and there’s no doubt the city benefits from a wide catchment area in terms of skills and connections.
“Creation of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in 2014 has helped foster a more mature relationship across the boroughs, while the strong relationship between Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham is a major plus – their willingness to work together as a team is a positive for the whole North West.”
Daley: “The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotherham, work very closely together for the benefit of the North West as a whole, and this is an integral part of how these northwest cities integrate and collaborate within the business world.
“The Liverpool City Region consists of local authorities Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, Wirral and St Helens, as well as some parts of Halton. The diversity of the local population and businesses within the region is something that Liverpool is very proud of and has continued to develop over the years, maintaining very strong links with people, cities and businesses across the globe, forming and nurturing partnerships within the local areas with twinned towns and cities internationally.
“The region has its own airport, and both road and public transport links are well established, with Wales, the Isle of Man and Ireland almost on the doorstep, the ability to build businesses that are able to branch these borders is effortless.”
What challenges has the city faced recently and how will it overcome them?
McKenna: “The fact that the visitor economy provides 49% of business rates to the city is clearly not good news at the moment. The need to diversify the commercial offer in Liverpool has never been starker. Although we need to retain as much of the hospitality sector as we can, we need to build a more sustainable, mixed economy moving forward.
“To do that, we must embrace new investment, accelerate planned developments across the city and be seen as a can-do, business friendly place that will bend over backwards to support and welcome new business to Liverpool.”
Sutton: “There have been one or two failed development schemes in the construction sector, which have not exactly covered the city in glory, but they need to be put in perspective. There have been numerous other hugely successful construction projects that have been delivered in recent years. There are cranes in the skies all around Liverpool. This is a positive sign for our future economic prosperity.”
Daley: “Having a large tourist industry within the region, Liverpool has been hugely impacted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and it has been very testing times for a lot of businesses, employers and employees, as well as the population as a whole.
“The hospitality industry has been widely hit, particularly with the loss of tourism and the implemented essential social distancing measures, making it more difficult for people to travel into the city and limiting numbers within venues. With the introduction of the ‘Eat In to Help Out’ scheme throughout August 2020, and more specifically the Liverpool ‘Without Walls’ programme that enables cafes, bars and restaurants to offer outside areas for socialising that have been created within pedestrianised roads along a number of streets, these projects have had a positive influence on reinvigorating this sector, with pavement licence fees waivered and funds available to purchase screening and outdoor furniture, making it more feasible and accessible for eligible businesses to flourish through maximisation of their available space.”
What future developments are planned and how will they impact the area?
Hughes: “The forthcoming new cruise liner terminal will be massive for Liverpool. It will continue to attract international cruise holiday operators and tourists from all over the world.
“Everton Football Club’s new stadium, in the North Liverpool docklands, will have a hugely positive economic impact on the city, as will a number of other major construction projects that are underway across the city.”
McKenna: “From new football stadia to cruise liner terminals; the development of a multi-million-pound Knowledge Quarter to the fastest urban zip wire thrill-seeker attraction in Europe, there are no shortage of projects in Liverpool’s pipeline. The trick is, deliver them quickly so that the regeneration Liverpool has enjoyed during the past 15 years maintains momentum and enables us to recover from the ravages of COVID-19 quickly.
“The positive impact of these schemes on jobs, investment, visitor numbers and growth mean that despite recent challenges, the city is still very much in ‘glass half-full’ territory.”
Daley: “Liverpool is utilising some of the governments £500m injection into reviving the UKs television and film industry, with the goal of becoming the ‘Hollywood of the North’, as Liverpool is the most filmed city in the UK outside of London, with plans to invest £54M into the regeneration of the iconic Littlewoods building on the outskirts of the city centre into state of the art, world class film and television studios.”
Waters: “A renewed local rail network and £400m investment in new trains will significantly boost connectivity and further widen access to the regional skills pool, while another £400m is being pumped into the creation of the Liverpool2 port, a major expansion of what is already one of the world’s most modern shipping terminals. Nearby, plans for a Mersey barrage look a realistic prospect at last, as the city explores new renewable energy options.
“The £5.5bn Liverpool Waters regeneration project will breathe new life into the city’s northern docks area; its 60-hectare vision includes 315,000 sq ft of quality business space and will deliver opportunities for jobs, training and skills development, while supporting infrastructure will create new links with the city centre.
“More than £1bn worth of development is under way at the exciting Knowledge Quarter Liverpool, a collaboration between education and health sectors which aims to reposition the city at the forefront of global innovation.”
What sectors are most prevalent within Liverpool? Why?
McKenna: “One of the most beautiful cities in the UK aesthetically, with a rich history in music, culture and sport, Liverpool inevitably boasts a magnificent tourism offer. However, in science, tech and innovation, the city is a world leader, so more needs to be done to capitalise on the fact. Traditionally a port city, Brexit will see Liverpool return as a major export hub too.
“In areas such as manufacturing and IT, there are strong players, but these sectors can be grown in future years – and there is a huge opportunity to promote and contribute to the emerging green agenda with a wealth of natural assets across the city region.”
Waters: “The city has long held a reputation as a great – and growing – visitor destination too, with thriving arts and hospitality offerings helping to attract close to 70 million visitors last year, injecting more than £4.9bn into the city region economy and supporting 57,000 jobs.”
Hughes: “The tourism sector has been particularly important to Liverpool’s revival in the last decade and continues to be so. Liverpool is now one of the most visited cities in Europe.
“Historically, the science and pharmaceutical cluster in south Liverpool has been important and in the region car manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Vauxhall and Cammell Laird shipbuilders.”
Sutton: “Construction and property development are seriously strong sectors at the moment. Liverpool has multiple high profile construction projects underway building hospitals, university research centres, new offices and new homes. It is fantastic for the city.”