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Where is everybody?

Larry Neild on the city's population halt and why Tim Leunig wasn't such a “barmy boffin”

Published on August 4th 2009.

Where is everybody?

ALMOST exactly a year ago I met a professor described by the Liverpool Echo as the barmy boffin. Tim Leunig had done a ‘Boris’ – by insulting Liverpool and everything Scouse. He produced a think-tank report essentially saying Liverpool was a dying city, suggesting citizens should move to the more lucrative south east in search of jobs, wealth and opportunity.

Adam Smith dismissed the report as a silly season story. It was, in my view, anything but and should have given our decision makers food for thought. I wonder how many of our politicians read all 60-odd pages of the report?

So incensed was Liverpool, well a lot of Liverpool, the London based professor agreed, courageously I thought, to head north for an eyeball-to-eyeball with his critics. That showdown took place in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

I wrote on Liverpool Confidential at the time the report from Policy Exchange needed to be read in total to understand the reasoning for his conclusions about Liverpool.

This, for instance, is what the professor had to say about the city’s population decline:

“If the coal-powered, sea-transport based Industrial Revolution led to populations being located in areas that are not ideal for a modern, service sector, road and airbased economy, then allowing significant levels of migration makes economic sense. Since the British population is not growing dramatically – certainly not by 19th

century standards – this implies that some areas will experience population decline. In fact this is already happening. Liverpool, for example, has lost almost half its population since its 1931 peak of 856,000.

Population decline is not necessarily desirable. Migration can break up communities and it is often the case that the most enterprising migrate, leaving behind a community that lacks skills and entrepreneurs.”

Of course in other parts of the controversial report he comes up with remedies to enable places like Liverpool to survive if not thrive.

Even Liverpool Confidential ranters had a lot to say about Leunig. Adam Smith dismissed the report as a silly season story. It was, in my view, anything but and should have given our decision makers food for thought. I wonder how many of our politicians read all 60-odd pages of the report?

Fast forward a year and here’s the city council finance director, or money boffin, warning Liverpool’s population will stagnate over the coming years. It’s likely to remain more or less the same for the next two decades, while up the road slightly-smaller Manchester is expected to grow by almost a third.

The implications for Liverpool are grim, with government cash linked to population. That presents the prospect of a multi-million pound hole in town hall income, with a city council having to pay the running costs of a city essentially half-empty. The streets and infrastructure were built for a city of almost a million.

Few would disagree Liverpool has benefited from 08, L-One, the ACC etc, but as Leunig pointed out in his crystal-ball report, the spending of £4bn on giving the city a leg-up is actually only helping us to avoid falling further behind other growing cities.

The solution, more unpalatable to some as Leunig’s report, is for Liverpool to gobble up neighbouring areas like Kirkby, Huyton and Skelmersdale, essentially returning former scousers back to their homeland.

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34 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Johnny ToddAugust 3rd 2009.

What I don't understand is that if Liverpool is so unimportant and in irreversible decline, why do people from supposedly booming cities like Manchester spend so much time and effort slagging Liverpool off? Either they are very insecure or they know something they are anxious to suppress…

Asa NewtAugust 3rd 2009.

Have I been hitting the bottle too much? Usually it is pink elephants but I am sure this column was about a white elephant a few hours ago.

UnionJackoAugust 3rd 2009.

Sterling has lost its influence because of the petro dollar and the Uk governments slavish adoption of american fiscal policies.BNP advocates dissolving all links with the american warmongers and, in conjunction with like minded European partners, setting up a national European bank based upon sterling and the old, tried and trusted, gold exchange mechanism.The super inflation of recent years is brought under control at a stroke.Pensions are preserved, old folk taken care of and our childrens education made secure.The mad gun thugs on the streets of our cities and roaming around the playgrounds in England will be the focus of new, more severe, laws and the ludicrous tagging and asbo culture given ONE chance.Join decent, law abiding, people or face drastic measures.It is easy.It just requires the will.

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2009.

Yes Mr Cruces, listening!

Observer talks senseAugust 3rd 2009.

Observer is right.Liverpool is a minor backwater in real terms.Manchester has grabbed every opportunity to develop and expand its truly multicultural city.Manchester has credentials for being the regional capital.Liverpool merely has a criminal record.

MISSYBAugust 3rd 2009.

Jane - what a stereotypical stupid thing to say. So the fact I have bleached blonde hair, I have a self confessed god awful perma tan and a nice rack - no need for the boob job (couldn't actually afford it if i wanted one) does that make me a bad person... ? Oh and as for Liverpool supporting you, You sound like you have done a fantastic job building a small buisiness, what do you need Liverpool to do for you ? Obviously not money bcause that would be like a grant grabber - your words ! so you need recognition and support ? Try supporting your fellow Liverpool people, like me - a grant grabbing as I currently work full time and can not afford to start my new business and need a little support in the form of a grant, cash quite short at the moment maybe due to amount of bleach I use on my hair !

ReluctantShopperAugust 3rd 2009.

Had to race to Trafford Centre last night(closing time 10pm) to buy something Liverpool JohnL didnt have. It's like 9-30pm, the car parks are crammed and the centre was as crowded as Liverpool gets at sales time. And this was Wednesday - bally-ann day. I tell ya, we're missing a trick or two in Liverpool.

OptomistAugust 3rd 2009.

Stop being so down on yourselves people!

HopefulAugust 3rd 2009.

Liverpool's been in the gutter before and picked itself up. Somebody once said you can't get any lower than the gutter. Haven't they looked: what about the grids to drag us really down the plughole.

Hilary BurrageAugust 3rd 2009.

Like Larry, I agree the Leunig analysis requires careful thought - in fact, I blogged on it too (http://www.hilaryburrage.com / 16 October '08), trying to explore what was really important here. It's Tim Leunig's effectively no-hope, and in my view quite undeliverable, 'solutions' that are the real worry; but, as was pointed out at the time of the Leunig / Robertson debate at the Cathedral, we can't just ignore the seriousness of the situation.Some of the issues identified by Leunig do indeed demand a response - we now have to think what that response should actually be.

Jane hAugust 3rd 2009.

Here's an idea - maybe Liverpool and it's maiin media publications should support small businesses (excluding the grant grabbers) like mine who has accolades from all over the place and an invite to join to Royal Society of arts for my work, and yet not a stitch of support from Liverpool, except for two small articles ages ago. Which is why I am going back to London because I get support there. It is even the year of the environment (hA!) and I have received messages after being on the plinth yesterday in Trafalgar Square saying Liverpool can be proud of you etc etc. My reply - no not at all, not interested as I am haven't stabbed anyone, shot anyone, die my hair blonde, had a boob job or coloured myself in perma-tan. And we wonder why people leave?

0-haterAugust 3rd 2009.

Things can't be so bad for Liverpool the council tells us so. Just today we're told 08 earned us £800m and they wouldn't lie would they? If that much rolled in through CoC why are we so skint? I'm confused. And of course Liverpool will continue to suffer from a brain drain as anyone with an ounce of go and bit of grey matter will get the hell out before we become a gigantic soup kitchen.

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2009.

No, you are wrong to level criticism or praise at he Echo or this site. But a bit of realism wouldn't be amiss from our council leaders or our Labour opposition. There is no vision, no hope from anyone. There, the unsaid truth

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2009.


Stanley StreetAugust 3rd 2009.

Of course none of this is news. The shortage of skilled workers because they’d moved away, the shortage of jobs for the unskilled because they were left behind along with unemployables such the O.A.P.s, the chronically sick and those too young to work have been problems here for well over thirty years. The boom fuelled by the previous low property prices and the imminent Capital of Culture seems not to have remedied this. Rather than useful, worthwhile people and employers being attracted to move to Liverpool and transform the local economy as we were all promised by our politicians, all we actually got were a lot of worthless public relations-types and other useless drones from London and the South East who came to feast on the skip-loads of public money being spent by naïve and gullible chumps. Oh well, at least they’ll all bugger off again soon, we hope.

ObserverAugust 3rd 2009.

The city council (all parties) do this city a massive disservice in perpetuating the myth that, with our 400,000 people, we can be a world city. Manchester has 2.4 million.The Echo go along with this, thankfully LC don't!

Skint TaxpayerAugust 3rd 2009.

I should imagine that at lot of the money that came in went straight into the pockets of the carpet-baggers that overran the place. Also, are they counting investment in the speculative building of cramped flats in ugly tower blocks that no-one would want to live in even if they were affordable? The massive salaries and huge pay-offs to unsuitable people appointed to run the CoC?All we've got out of it really is Liverpool One and the Arena - so just a number of low-paid, low-skilled, low status jobs for caterers, cleaners and shop assistants.

T. JunctionAugust 3rd 2009.

"The streets and infrastructure were built for a city of almost a million." The road system in liverpool could not cope with a population of a million, particularly since the current shower in the Town Hall have done such a thorough job of buggering it all up.

Bud FlanaganAugust 3rd 2009.

Who do you think you are kidding Mister Hitler?

Proud BritonAugust 3rd 2009.

Unionjackass - how EXACTLY are they going to do that? Stop spouting drivel and put some plans on the table. Like what are you going to do with the bankers who created all this mess? Or will the BNP simply ignore them and carry on threatening and intimidating poor people?

Angry of AigburthAugust 3rd 2009.

Is that really so bad? I'd to go back to living in my Liverpool, the skint one in which local people on normal incomes could once again afford to live in Canning Street and Lark Lane and restore their 'bohemian' reputations.

UnionJackoAugust 3rd 2009.

There is one simple and easy solution to the severe ills which are crippling our big cities.Vote BNP.Vote for change and lets simply make a world that the majority of British people want.Whats wrong with that?

Decent law abiding personAugust 3rd 2009.

Well let's hope these decent law abiding people also have the will and good sense to take drastic action against the racist fascist scum who masquerade as patriots and nationalists, disgracing our national flag and insulting the memory and contibution of all those brave men and women who fought or died to liberate Europe and save this country from the Nazis and fascism.And Fascism is the ideological basis of the BNP no matter how they try and dress it up. Try being honest and change your name to Swastika

jane hAugust 3rd 2009.

not aimed at you, aimed at wags and the scals the younger generation seem to want to live up to that seems to be all the papers ever cover or deem important. I just wonder what modern and positive role models are presented to the kids, hvaing done a lot of events and business workshops with many kids myself. I am actually going to close my liverpool named company tonight because despite plugging that lpool is forward thinking in enviromental stuff and trying to give a positive message it falls on deaf ears to anyone here ranging from just (not monetary) support from say the people running the year of the environment to promote that yes we do actually have ethical businesses, support from tourism people to say set up a market for local makers and designers to promote themselves. We are so far behind we dont even have a small business, regular design, fashion & craft market!! Where there are viable businesses they yes do deserve grants, but go to a few networking meetings and just see who I am talking about...they are out there as I have seen it myself first hand...money that could do so much much more for sensible business plans. My comment refers only to what the media like, recent Echo feature about glam women didnt do much to change my opinion - it was a joke - great role models most of them. This place does need to modernise in ways of thinking as it's missing a trick.

A.A. MannAugust 3rd 2009.

It's called free parking

Eye WitnessAugust 3rd 2009.

And we've lost our Head Post Office! And several of our best buildings!

talking senseAugust 3rd 2009.

Its impossible to criticise Liverpools self pitying, and backward culture. The nostalgia police instantly delete or shout down any negative remarks.It still has to be addressed though that Liverpool remains mired in sentimentality, laziness, and crime.It exists and needs to be changed if this second rate city is to ever be embraced by the more progressive parts of Britain.

The Party's OverAugust 3rd 2009.

The sad truth about 08 is that it was just a big, egotistical 'Giro Blow-Out' for the Council. The cupboards are bare and the hangover will last for five years, particularly as the Objective One funding from the European Union that has sustained Liverpool for decades has now finished. All we need now is a Tory in Number Ten to complete the nightmare.

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2009.

Once the ships to America finished, it was a state of managed decline.

AnonymousAugust 3rd 2009.

How's Emma?

Hooray HenriAugust 3rd 2009.

It's good to rant, but harder to get stuck into the business of making this city region a success in the longer term. Fortunately plenty of people are doing just that. Yesterday I went to look at Eleanor Rigby's gravestone in St. Peter's churchyard, Woolton. Inevitably I was not alone; there were two other groups being given guided tours. The good news is that both groups were led by local guides who were professional, enthusiastic and clearly giving value for money. If we all follow their example in whatever we do we will make a difference. If that sounds pious, hard cack.

City ZenAugust 3rd 2009.

Liverpool will have a better chance of surviving if it faces to the reality. Instead the powers-that-be and some politicians actually believe their own spin that Liverpool is the centre of the universe. Trust me, it isn't. That doesn't mean we are finished. Far from it. But if we are brutally honest with ourselves, and that goes for people like Councillor Bradley, we can march forward. And who knows, some day not very soon we may be great again. Combine what the city treasury person and Prof Leunig are saying and it's a wake up call.

UnionJackoAugust 3rd 2009.

There is one simple and easy solution to the severe ills which are crippling our big cities.Vote BNP.Vote for change and lets simply make a world that the majority of British people want.Whats wrong with that?

scousekrautAugust 3rd 2009.

Most northern cities have lost much of their population since the 1950s as the cities dumped them outside in new towns and estates. Liverpool is the centre of a large urban area these days and that is not going to change. However, it is difficult to see how the city will attract many more people to live in the city unless there is significant business development in the North Docks.Also there is quite rightly currently a big debate on immigration. England does not have the infracstructure to support its current population of 62 million. Yet this is forcest to continue growing. As England is also the third most crowded country in the world, and Britain the most crowded country in Europe, this is clearly absurd.Personally I believe that the current political structures that support this will fall away in the coming years and immigration will be severly limited and the population may even go down. This will present challenges for everybody, particularly with an aging population.

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