The Liverpool City Region needs to press on with its devolution agenda in the wake of recent political upheaval according to a group of regional business and property experts.
The esteemed panel, which met this morning at a special Move Commercial post-election debate to discuss what lies ahead for the region’s economy following last week’s election, agreed it is vital focus isn’t lost on the fortunes of the city region.
The event took place at Liverpool’s Cotton Exchange and covered a range of important topics including the impact a possible ‘softer’ Brexit could have on the region’s property market and economic prospects.
The panel: Dr Michael Birkett, group chief executive of the Regenda Group; Ian McCarthy, festival director of the International Business Festival; Asif Hamid, chair of Liverpool City Region LEP; Gary Cook, professor of economics at the University of Liverpool and Alan Bevan, managing director of City Residential.
Dr Birkett called any “prolonged period of uncertainty” for the Liverpool City Region “wholly unhelpful” whilst praising the impact of devolution on the city region.
He said: “The best thing that has happened to Liverpool for some time is the devolution agreement.
“What with we’ve got with the devolution agenda is momentum and a mayor who has a clear vision for what the city region should look like.
“What would be a step backwards would be if we get bogged down over the next 12-18 months and anything happens which effectively gets in the way of the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor starting to get his policies in place to take the region forward.
“What we need is a clear vision and clear strategies which can keep going and not get bogged down by Westminster politics.”
Ian McCarthy echoed Birkett’s calls for a solid plan, adding: “We’ve got to see a medium to long term plan in terms of the city’s continued connectivity and its product for investors to invest in.
“Let’s help to shape our own destiny here in the city region while the world’s bobbing up and down and fluctuation outside because we’ve got the tools.
“The message is stop thinking about the next 12 months and start thinking about the next 12 years again.”
Asif Hamid added: “There is a demand out there for a softer Brexit and I think businesses want certainty and I tend to agree that the instability doesn’t help the markets.
“We have to capitalise as a city region. We’ve got to rise our head above Brexit and say ‘how can we make the most of this?’
“I agree that we should be looking to get behind the Metro Mayor and the devolution agenda to do this.”
Dr Birkett added: “Liverpool didn’t vote for Brexit. Liverpool often sees itself in many people’s eyes as a worldwide city, looking outwards.
“I think this election and this result presents an opportunity for Liverpool to start to move forward and start to build on what we have.
“Hopefully a softer Brexit will play upon everything which will benefit the city region in terms of employment and opportunities.
“It’s hard to see how the whole Brexit issue is helpful to Liverpool if you look at the economic indicators.
“A ‘softer’ Brexit as a result of this election seems to me to be wholly welcome and something that, in conjunction with the business leaders, gives us a bit more of a platform to actually try and reverse some of the more extreme perspectives that have been put forward over the last 12 months.”
Gary Cook offered some sobering insight in the effects of a bad Brexit deal, saying: “I’m very confident that the city region has got a lot of strong cards to play so whatever happens in the national picture there’s a lot we can do to help ourselves.
“In a very optimists picture, a soft Brexit will cost us around £20 billion a year as economy – that’s if everything goes swimmingly.
“However, if we get a really bad deal – the cost will in the end start to mount up to something like £120/130 billion a year – which is about the size of the NHS budget.”
Meanwhile Alan Bevan offered a positive appraisal of the city region’s residential market, saying: “The residential market, across the region, is the bright spot and will probably continue to be so.
“I doubt whether the Brexit discussions are going to have that much impact on the residential property market here in the city region however it could potentially affect overseas investment.
“There continues to be a lot of overseas investment. It has been very strong over the last two years and we would expect it to continue irrespective of the political issues.
“The drop in Sterling continues to make UK property and regional property very attractive.
“The perception of Liverpool outside the UK is huge. Everywhere you go Liverpool is a very easy sell job if you’re talking to anyone outside of the UK because its world famous.
“Realistically we don’t expect the current ongoing political issues to massively effect overseas residential investment.”
Speaking on the the impact a hard Brexit could have on social housebuilding, Birkett added: “There’s no reliance from my organisation [Regenda] on European labour.
“I’ve got no immediate concerns, unless there was a pull from the South East on local labour but we need a city region and countrywide approach to construction apprenticeships.
“The country has come on leaps and bounds when it comes to apprenticeships and fortunately Steve Rotheram is a real advocate of apprenticeships.
“We need a greater volume around apprenticeships to stop apprentices being pinches as soon as they get qualified.
“The apprenticeship strategy has to be aligned with the strengths of the Liverpool City Region. There’s no point having a whole load of apprenticeships if that isn’t what’s driving economic growth.
“We need to align our apprenticeships with the city region’s developing sectors to make sure the apprentices help growth and are we are available to provide opportunities for those young people in our region as soon as they become qualified.”