Where has the year gone? Once again, as we face a brand new year, I look back on what we have achieved in this city as well as looking forward to the year ahead.
It makes sense to start with our financial situation and the budget for the next few years. I’ve made no secret of the dire situation we find ourselves in here in Liverpool. The reality is, we are facing the toughest financial challenges we have ever faced in our history. We have had more than half of our funding snatched away from us, a 58% cut so far, with more to come. In 2010 we used to receive £524m from Government and today we receive only £268m. We now have to find another £90m of cuts over the next three years. Despite us shouting, despite us fighting, despite us making real, factual cases, as well as, emotional pleas, this government simply will not listen. They do not care about the devastating affects their actions are having on the most vulnerable in our City. And so, we have no choice but to get on with it, to find new ways of thinking, new ways of investing and making money to ensure we can provide for our people.
I know people are struggling, including children living in poverty and in some cases going hungry. This is not an exaggeration but it is a heart-breaking fact that, behind closed doors in our City, many families are struggling and desperately trying to cope.
I have always tried to be as open and transparent as possible when it comes to our financial situation here in Liverpool. I want people to know and understand what we are facing, I want you to be part of the decisions we make. We are here to represent you and it is important that you have your say. That is why we recently opened up the Budget Simulator, which saw more than 10,000 people try to balance our budget. Only around 16% of the total finished it – they all recognised that to balance the budget we need to make cuts.
The results however show that there is a clear message from you for us to prioritise vulnerable people, this is going to be extremely difficult as the largest amounts of money we now spend is spent on social care, but we will try our hardest to do so. We cannot avoid the facts. There are going to be some closures of buildings, reductions in services and jobs lost as we try and close the gaps caused by having less funding.
When we launched the Budget Simulator I said there are only two places we can get the money to pay for services affected by the cuts – more money from the Government or asking the people of Liverpool to pay more Council Tax. In the simulator I asked would you support an increase in Council tax of an additional 6%, ring-fenced for Social Care. This was a genuine consultation, I get criticised if I ask and I get criticised if I don’t, but I wanted to know how people would respond. The response was clear with 57% saying no. I understand the reasons why the people who said no did, they themselves are struggling as are many others living in our city. I was also surprised and proud that so many, 43%, said yes! It’s a truly heart-warming reminder of how caring our City really is.
I said I would listen to the feedback we got. I will therefore not be proposing to hold a referendum on any additional increase beyond the 4.99% limit set by Government.
Work is still continuing on the full detail of the budget which we will make public in the New Year for more consultation, but your message so far is clear. I will try to continue to protect as much as we can from cuts especially to those who need our support most. We now have to prioritise the priorities.
This year will go down in history for many reasons. Of course, there was the shock of Brexit, something we are still trying to get our heads around. We have President Elect Trump, Leicester winning the Premier League and Honey G releasing a Christmas single – a shocking year to say the least.
2016 will of course be remembered for the many people we have lost this year, not just musical and comedy geniuses such as David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Victoria Wood, but also people who have meant a lot to this city.
I was particularly saddened to learn of the death of Herbert Howe, who was a fantastic ambassador of our City, I’m sure his legacy will live on for many years. We also lost two former council leaders, Sir Trevor Jones and Harry Rimmer, both served our City in difficult times.
This year will also be remembered by many in Liverpool as a year when we came together to stand against fascists, thugs and hate crime. It was quite shocking to see the rise in hateful and racist comments since the EU referendum but this year I witnessed some of the most vile displays I have ever seen. When the National Action Group visited our city – I say visited the city, they barely saw more than the inside of a lost luggage kiosk – the reaction of the people of Liverpool made our message loud and clear – racism is not welcome in our city. We are a city proud of diversity, proud of walking side by side with our neighbours of all nationalities and religions.
We will continue to make that point clear, racism and hate crime will not be tolerated in this City. We will do everything we can to ensure that Liverpool remains a safe, tolerant and friendly City.
For me though, 2016 will stand in history for one significant reason – the year we finally got truth and justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster who were unlawfully killed on 15th April 1989. Many words have already been said about the verdicts and although I am in danger of repeating them all again, I want to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks and admiration to the families and campaigners who have fought against the odds, for 27 long and hard years, to uncover one of the biggest cover ups this country has ever witnessed. Those brave families and campaigners have set a precedent for generations to come – justice is possible, fight for what is right and never give up. I was delighted that we were able to give posthumous Freedom of the City, for the first time ever, to the 96 victims that were taken from us that day. They can now rest in peace, giving hope to us all.
Without a doubt there are some extremely tough times ahead but there is a lot to look forward to in 2017.
This city never has and never will know what it means to rest in its fight for justice. We will always dig in our heels and keep fighting for our future.
Recent news that Liverpool is the fastest growing economy in the country – including London! – shows us that together we are on the right track and we expect plenty of good news for the city in the year ahead:
Anyone who has driven along it will see the current £100m redevelopment of Liverpool Shopping Park, which will be the UK’s biggest, new retail and leisure destination with over 41 new shops and attraction, creating more than 3,000 new jobs.
This transformation of Great Homer Street has been a long time coming, and was a priority of mine when I entered office to kickstart years of inaction. It will create more than 1000 new jobs in the North Liverpool Mayoral Development Zone, with a new supermarket, district centre, homes and much needed improved public spaces.
Our breath-taking new Royal Hospital, will bring world class healthcare for the people of our city and will be the largest all single-patient room hospital in the UK. Just as impressive, however, is the contribution it will make to our economy. It’s the keystone in a new partnership in science and medical research, which includes the Knowledge Quarter, one of the most exciting new developments for Liverpool’s future.
The Knowledge Quarter
This is a £1bn flagship scheme to establish a world-leading medical and scientific research hub, creating 10,000 highly skilled jobs. It is a ten-year project, and has already had a huge success in attracting the Royal College of Physicians to open their northern headquarters here. This will have a huge impact on our economy, making us one of the great centres of the world for new innovations in health. It’s a sign that our ambition is to grow the city with well-paid, high-skilled jobs that will create more wealth in the city. There will also be new transport links to the area connecting the region to this exciting part of the City.
Housing remains a priority for us, 2016 alone saw over 1500 new homes either completed or started in Liverpool and we are expecting to do at least the same again in 2017. With the start of our Rent to Buy scheme, we will be announcing how people can become homeowners without a deposit. These initiatives are not only providing much needed houses, but jobs and a boost to council funds through council tax that will help sustain ourselves for the future and paying for much needed services.
Culture of course has been key in 2016, with Culture Liverpool events welcoming over 710,000 people to the city and generating more than £21 million for the local economy. The Liverpool Cruise Terminal welcomed 63 cruise liners, 114,676 passengers and crew to the city during the 2016 summer season, generating an economic impact of approx. £7m.
And if you haven’t seen the city already in the movies, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a great opportunity to spot Liverpool’s landmarks on screen, thanks to the huge success of the Liverpool Film Office. They have attracted 247 film and TV projects to Liverpool in 2016, producing 800 film days and generating approximately £11m of inward investment into the local economy.
Culture is will play just as important a role in 2017, with us eager to build on successes so far and continue to create magical memories for you all.
I also look forward to submitting our feasibility study for the Commonwealth Games 2026 in April, to Commonwealth Games England, UK Sport and DCMS. We are also bidding to hold the World Gymnastics games on behalf of the UK in 2022. We will keep you posted.
We will be accepting a design bid for the cruise terminal and starting the building, hopefully by September. I look forward to making an announcement with Everton Football Club on their decision on which one of the options for a new stadium they have chosen early in the new year.
There will also be some exciting new investment announcements to be made in the first quarter resulting in new jobs coming to the City.
In the more immediate future, I will be announcing in detail in early January how I intend to set up a Liverpool Lottery Card with the proceeds raised being channelled to support those most in need. Liverpool people are amongst the most generous in the country and I believe will support the initiative to help us cope with the growing numbers of people dependent on us. Never did I imagine that when this Government talked about the Big Society in 2010 that so many people would be impoverished by unrelenting austerity policies, causing us to do things like this, but we have to do everything we can to help.
Once again, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all council staff, officers, cabinet members, councillors, volunteers, and partners who have worked harder than ever, with less resources, smaller budgets and more pressure than ever before, yet have continued to perform at the highest level. I am immensely proud of everything you do, I know it isn’t easy, in fact I know it has been incredibly hard at times, but everything you do is massively appreciated.
I wish everybody a very happy new year, I promise we will continue to do everything we can to ensure the best possible year for you all. I get excited every day I come to work – yes there are challenges but we can overcome them by seizing the opportunities that exist for what is the best City in the world.
Mayor Joe Anderson