Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, UK
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English local elections 2014
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Mayor of the Month for April 2014
Mayor of Liverpool, UK
Interviewed by Tann vom Hove
2 April 2014: Despite or, he would say, because of Liverpool’s glorious past, Mayor Joe Anderson never ceases to stress that the best days for the city lie ahead. His optimism won him an election, when in May 2012 he became the city’s first directly elected mayor. Joe Anderson is the type of larger-than-life city leader that the US used to produce in abundance and that still rule in some European cities. Born and bred in Liverpool and speaking with a soft Scouse accent, the mayor’s passion for his city is real and when he explains his hopes and dreams no one doubts his sincerity.
• Financial sustainability
• Liverpool City Region
• Short biography
• An interview with Mayor Anderson
Joe Anderson, a member of the Labour Party, does not object to being called a socialist, but he represents a pragmatic kind of socialism - not Tony Blair’s New Labour and certainly not Militant Tendency, which caused havoc in Liverpool’s City Hall for a few years in the 1980s. He is pro-business and pro-development and at the same time a vociferous champion of the weakest and poorest in his city. He does not hesitate to describe members of the UK’s conservative-led government as political parasites but also calls London’s Eton-educated Mayor Boris Johnson his mate and Tory grandee Lord Heseltine his friend.
This year, faced with substantial cuts in government grants, the Mayor’s most pressing task is to prevent a collapse of city services. In his March budget speech, he said that Liverpool City Council was facing its most difficult period in its long history. He called the cuts imposed on the city as “reductions imposed by a government made up of millionaire ministers far removed from reality, who are more interested in attacking the poorest and the weakest in society than looking for a fairer solution.” In a Roscoe Lecture, given last October at the Liverpool John Moores University, the Mayor said council and welfare cuts were equal to the loss of 76 per cent of the city’s manufacturing sector. “By 2016, well over one billion pounds will have been sucked out of the city, which amounts to £1,032 for every person in Liverpool.”
In the long-term, the Liverpool Mayor and the leaders of other large local authorities in the UK strive for more financially self-sufficient cities. Joe Anderson looks with some envy across the Atlantic and to Europe, where cities have greater freedom to raise taxes and spend them as they see fit. In an interview with City Mayors (see below), the Mayor said the current system for financing cities in England was in desperate need of reform. “At the moment, almost 90 per cent of our funding comes from the national Government, while 95 per cent of all tax raised in English cities leaves and is sent to the Treasury. This means we are much more dependent on central Government than big cities in other developed countries.” For Mayor Anderson sustainability is not just about the green agenda but also about “being financially solvent and not entirely reliant on government funding”. “American mayors,” he said, “have the ability to innovate because they have the power and ability to raise substantial revenue.”
Liverpool City Region
Joe Anderson, who has been the elected Mayor of Liverpool for just under two years, has described his job as a stepping-stone to a bigger democratic mandate. With 66 per cent of people who work in Liverpool coming from neighbouring and further afield communities, the Mayor supports stronger ties between the local authorities that make up the Liverpool City Region. Last year, he even floated the idea of an elected Mayor for Merseyside.
On 1 April 2014, the six authorities of the region - Liverpool, Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral - formed a combined authority responsible for economic development, transport and employment. But the Liverpool City Region’s first formal meeting was marred by a dispute over who should be the chairman of the new authority. Mayor Anderson as leader of by far the largest council of the authority naturally felt the job should be his. But instead four of the authority’s six members voted in the absence of the Liverpool Mayor to install the council leader of Wirral as chairman. Joe Anderson described the meeting as clandestine and threatened to pull Liverpool out of the Liverpool City Region Authority. Clearly Merseyside is not yet ready to be led by Joe Anderson.
Joe Anderson was born in 1958 in Liverpool and grew up in the working class district of Dingle, near the city centre. His parents, a merchant seaman and an office cleaner, together with six children lived in a tenement building. After leaving school at 16, Joe Anderson followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Merchant Navy and later P&O Ferries. At 20 he was already a steward of the National Union of Seaman. In total, he spent the first 12 years of his working life at sea.
In his 20s, Joe Anderson started to read widely and to “self-educate” himself before enrolling at Liverpool John Moores University where he studied for a degree in social work. Later he also studied Labour History at Liverpool University.
The future Mayor of Liverpool began his political career in 1998, when he was elected city councillor for the Labour Party. Three years later he became leader of the Labour group on the council and in 2010, after Labour replaced the Liberal Democrats as the largest party, Leader of Liverpool Council. In May 2012 he became the city’s first directly elected mayor, securing almost 60 per cent of the vote. Later that year, Joe Anderson was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to local government.
Interview with Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson
City Mayors: You’re a good example of a local boy made good. What persuaded you go into politics and ultimately aspire to become Liverpool’s first citizen?
Mayor Anderson: I started as a trade union representative while working on ships. Seeing other parts of the world, including South Africa, opened my eyes to injustice and inequality and those experiences helped inform my view of the need to never rest in order to improve the lives of the people around us. In Liverpool, I wanted to be able to make real change happen, create jobs, build houses and new schools and that is still the reason I wake up every morning.
City Mayors: In recent months, a number of British economists and politicians have expressed concern about the economic dominance of London. Do you believe the UK capital drains other British cities off their most talented people and much needed investment?
Mayor Anderson: I do. If you visit London it is clear there has been no recession. A recent report by the respected Centre for Cities found that nine out of 10 of private sector jobs created from 2010 2012 were in London. London and the South East are overheating and that is detrimental to the rest of the country. Liverpool needs more powers and control over its own resources in order to shape its own destiny. We have plenty of our own successes, which we could grow and develop but we need the ability to invest in them.
City Mayors: It has been said that the 2008 economic crisis was largely caused by the financial sector in the City of London but that Britain’s second-tier cities, like Liverpool, were worse affected by the subsequent economic collapse and also recovered more slowly than London. What measures should be taken to strengthen the position of cities like Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester etc vis-as vis London?
Mayor Anderson: I think that Liverpool was shielded from the worst of the recession because of the pace of regeneration in the run up to and since European Capital of Culture. Around £1bn worth of development is currently taking place in our city, because we are seen as a viable market for investment. Developments such as the retail and leisure scheme Liverpool ONE and the Arena and Convention Centre were game changers in terms of supporting and creating jobs and levering in spending to the city region economy. But we still have high levels of unemployment in some areas of the city and business density is lower than other cities. What we need is more powers to be devolved from Westminster to allow us to make decisions locally.
City Mayors: London and other large British cities have asked for greater financial freedom. For example, the cities have proposed to retain and control property tax revenues such as council tax, stamp duty and business rates. While such a fiscal reform would benefit London, would it really be in the interest of cities like Liverpool? And what impact would it have on Britain’s many smaller cities?
Mayor Anderson: I would argue that politicians elected locally are always better placed to make decisions about the places they govern, rather than officials and politicians based hundreds of miles away. What is clear is that the current system for financing cities is in desperate need of reform and even the person who devised it agrees. At the moment, almost 90 per cent of our funding comes from the national Government, while 95 per cent of all tax raised in English cities leaves and is sent to the Treasury. This means we are much more dependent on central Government than big cities in other developed countries. We are doing our best within the current system, but change is needed.
City Mayors: Politically, you and most ministers in the current British Conservative-led government are probably miles apart. How well does your administration work with the various ministries in Whitehall?
Mayor Anderson: Despite our political differences, we have a constructive relationship. Government recognises that I was elected by the people of the city and therefore I have a mandate to deliver on my pledges from residents. Clearly, I will speak up for Liverpool and make plain the impact that decisions they make 200 miles away have on the city and its people, and I think they respect that. We also agree that strong leadership and supporting economic growth is vital to the future of Liverpool and our ability to contribute to the strength of the UK economy.
City Mayors: Liverpool and seven other large English cities form the Core Cities Group. While the Group may have some influence in Whitehall, does it play a significant part in persuading national and international companies to consider investing in Britain’s second-tier cities?
Mayor Anderson: The Core Cities are the eight biggest cities in England, outside of London. Some 16 million people live in Core City urban areas one third of England’s entire population and we don’t consider ourselves second-tier. We represent a huge marketplace and dynamic innovation in both the economy and local government. But the country does need to do a better job of balancing the economy, which is why projects like HS2 are important and closer working between cities. We talk to national and international investors every day and Core City areas, like the Liverpool City Region, are the best place for investment that will benefit the whole country.
City Mayors: Since being elected London mayor and with the help of the 2012 Olympics, Boris Johnson has become a very effective spokesman for UK capital, nationally and internationally. Should you, as the directly elected mayor of the largest city outside London, not play a more prominent role in promoting Britain’s large and smaller cities at home and abroad?
Mayor Anderson: I think we have already achieved a lot since I became Mayor in 2012. While the vast majority of my time is spent in Liverpool working on behalf of the people who elected me, I am willing to go anywhere to promote Liverpool as a place to live, work and invest. But it is also important that we are focused on those relationships, which mean the most to our businesses and partners in the city. Places like Qatar, Boston and Shanghai are partners in our future, while important conferences like MIPIM in Cannes give us opportunities to promote the city. As a result, many of the trips I take are funded by local businesses because there is a direct link to the benefits for the city for example, our Lord Mayor recently visited New York on the anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles, to promote the city’s tourism offering.
City Mayors: Liverpool is probably the friendliest large city in the UK but the various bodies promoting the city fail to make the sociability of ordinary Liverpudlians a unique selling point. Are you neglecting your best asset?
Mayor Anderson: I don’t think so. Liverpool people are our biggest asset, and that is something that comes over consistently when visitors are asked what they love most about the city. But when promoting the city, it’s important that we promote the things that people can see, do and invest in when they are here. For example, visitors are hugely important to Liverpool City Region, spending £3.4 billion a year and supporting 46,000 jobs in the local economy. We were the 5th most popular UK destination for international visitors in 2011 and 8th most popular destination for domestic visitors, so our marketing strategy is clearly working.
City Mayors: Liverpool ONE has been hailed as one the most successful retail developments in Britain. But has its success harmed other retail centres in the city? For the example, the neighbouring St John’s shopping centre looks tired and exhausted in comparison.
Mayor Anderson: Liverpool ONE has helped the city preserve its place as the retail centre of a wide catchment area which covers the city region and even into Wales. The development has forced the rest of the city centre to raise its game and we have seen significant investment as a result. People don’t just visit Liverpool ONE the busiest streets are actually Church Street and Lord Street, outside of Liverpool ONE. Church Street has seen the arrival of major international retailers like Forever 21 and revamped River Island and Marks and Spencer stores. St John’s is undergoing a major refurbishment and we’re investing £2 million in the market. Other nearby locations are being either revamped, like Clayton Square, or developed for the first time, such as the Central Village leisure and retail. So there has clearly been a ripple effect.
City Mayors: Is Liverpool concentrating too much on developing its centre and waterfront and thereby neglecting other parts of the city? While high streets like Allerton Road boast a large variety of retail outlets, they could be more attractive and shopper friendly.
Mayor Anderson: The city centre is the front door of Liverpool, and it is important we get that right. But I have made it a priority to make sure that other areas also get investment, and become an attractive place in their own right. The new Edge Lane Retail Park which is on one of the main gateways into the city will create 4,000 jobs and we’re pushing ahead with plans for new housing, retail and business space in areas such as Anfield and Norris Green. Some district centres also need help to preserve their character with a more balanced economy, for example by making sure they don’t become reliant on the night time economy by having too many bars and pubs. Finally, new transport schemes such as our growing car club and a new cycle-hire scheme are looking to spread across the city, creating new connections between all our communities.
City Mayors: UNESCO has warned that Liverpool might lose its World Heritage status if the Liverpool Waters development goes ahead as planned. Are you concerned?
Mayor Anderson: We are rightly proud of our position as a World Heritage City. It reflects our outstanding heritage, historical and cultural offer, our magnificent waterfront and our fantastic architecture, which are enjoyed by millions of people from all over the world. It’s important that we maximise the benefits of this title one that only an elite few hold to further boost tourism, drive our economy and raise our international profile. I strongly believe that it’s not a question of choosing either heritage or development by getting the balance right, we can ensure the two can exist in tandem. And it’s not just Liverpool that’s being scrutinized by UNESCO London is in a similar position.
City Mayors: Questions have been asked, notably by the Financial Times, about Chinese involvement in developing the Liverpool / Wirral waterfront. Do you believe Sam Wa Resources and its chairman Stella Shiu are still suitable partners for the project?
Mayor Anderson: That is entirely a matter for Peel - they are a private company. What matters to me is making sure they deliver on their plans for Liverpool Waters. If you look at the company they have an incredible track record, whether it’s Media City in Salford, or their plans for the Manchester Ship Canal and the huge expansion of the Super Port.
City Mayors: Britain’s proposed high-speed rail line HS2, which will link London with Birmingham and eventually Manchester and Leeds, will by-pass Liverpool. Will the exclusion of Liverpool negatively affect developments like Liverpool Waters or the planned container and cruise liner port?
Mayor Anderson: We need a mature discussion about how cities benefit from investments like HS2. There is no doubt in my mind that Liverpool will benefit from HS2, with journey times to and from London reduced by 25 percent, but also significant capacity opened up for freight from the port. We are strongly making the case to Government, with the support of the private sector for a spur to reach Liverpool, to connect our people and businesses with London and give us extra freight capacity to link in with the developed Super Port.
City Mayors: A few months after a scheme to re-introduce trams to Liverpool was scrapped, you decided to suspend dedicated bus lanes in the city. How do you now propose to persuade people to switch from private to public transport?
Mayor Anderson: In terms of the bus lanes there hasn’t been a review of them for over 20 years and the city has changed beyond recognition in those years. I felt it was important to take a fresh look at how we reduce congestion and help people get in and out of our modern city using solutions specific to our needs. We are currently conducting a trial and I will let the steering group advise me of their findings, but it is important to stay flexible to the changing use of transport for example, use of buses in the city has been declining and there has been a huge growth in local rail travel. I believe the bus companies need to offer more competitive fares and improve the quality of their fleet, and we are working with them to look at how this can be achieved, as well as introducing cheaper fares.
The tram was not a council scheme and was killed off several years ago when the previous government withdrew funding.
City Mayors: You initially contributed towards the development of programmes for Liverpool, European Capital of Culture in 2008 but resigned from the Liverpool Culture Company because you believed the planned events were “too elitist”. Would you say, with hindsight, you were wrong and acknowledge that Liverpool’s cultural scene has seen a dramatic resurgence since 2008?
Mayor Anderson: I was always a hugely passionate advocate of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture. My issue was with the management in the run up to the year. The year was a success thanks to the work of many different organisations and their resurgence is a result of the continued partnership between each other and the City, because of how important culture is to the city’s economy. We haven’t stopped building on 2008’s programme, for example we brought street theatre company Royal De Luxe to the city in 2012 which attracted one million people on to the streets, and we will be doing something similar again in July this year when we hold the official commemoration of the centenary of the start of World War One. We have also developed the popular Mathew Street Music Festival into the even-more popular Liverpool International Music Festival; have developed a programme of major events on our waterfront and continue to support our major cultural institutions including the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres and the Philharmonic Orchestra.
City Mayors: Unlike many of Britain’s leading football clubs, including Liverpool FC, Everton FC still boasts Liverpool and UK owners. Do you think the bond between football and local communities is weakened when clubs are taken over by overseas investors?
Mayor Anderson: It is not for me to get involved in the ownership of a private sector company. However, I do believe you can have good or bad owners regardless of whether they are based here or overseas. There is no doubt in my mind that in the case of LFC, current owners Fenway Sports are hugely committed to developing not just a successful club, but also contributing positively to the regeneration of the area. We have formed a strong partnership with them which is already delivering huge improvements in terms of housing after many years of inaction.
City Mayors: It has been said that there is no greater rivalry between two British cities than that that exists between Liverpool and Manchester. The Globalization and World Cities project of Loughborough University has classified Manchester as an important world city, while Liverpool is described as a regional city. How does the rivalry, if it still exists, affect the co-operation between the two cities, which lie after all only 50 kilometers apart?
Mayor Anderson: The rivalry is a bit overblown and is largely football related. The international dimension is important. Liverpool is famous across the world and a natural host for the International Festival of Business in June and July this year but many of the events will be held in Manchester as well. To many across the world our cities are close enough that we can use the strengths of both to draw in new investment and economic opportunities. We recently shared a stage at MIPIM, where we made the case for more Government investment in transport infrastructure like HS2. But as you would expect, my main focus is on what’s best for Liverpool and delivering on my pledges for the people of the city.
City Mayors: New York City’s most famous mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, once said: "A mayor who cannot look fifty or seventy-five years ahead is not worthy of being in City Hall." How do you see the future of Liverpool?
Mayor Anderson: Liverpool is my home and the only place I’ve ever lived. Moreover, it is the place where my children and grandchildren live so I am hugely ambitious for it. One of my mantras is that the city’s best years lie ahead. I truly believe that the city has a really bright future. We are a city that is known the world over, have a tremendous natural asset in the River Mersey, a billion pounds worth of regeneration on the ground and in the pipeline, good transport links, fantastic architecture, great universities and wonderful people. We’re re-establishing ourselves as a cruise destination, trade through the port is at record levels and we’ve got planning permission for Liverpool Waters, which will transform the derelict docklands. Our economy also includes some of the newest industries in existence with a large bio-manufacturing cluster. I could go on and on. We’ve got an awful lot to be positive about.
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