Talking business with Council Leader Liam Robinson
Council Leader, Cllr Liam Robinson, spoke to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce magazine, Well Connected, outlining his priorities in attracting investment and supporting businesses. We have reproduced the questions and answers below.
After a few weeks in the role, what are your first impressions?
It is everything I expected it to be. Lots of very hard work and it’s been very, very busy but that’s what you sign up for. It’s been great to start pulling the team together, a brand new Cabinet who’ve hit the ground running, full of enthusiasm and some grounding already in their portfolios.
It’s also great to be working with many new members of the Senior Management team who all want to make a difference and can see the longer term opportunities for the city, which is why we have been able to attract some of the strongest candidates you can find in the local government world.
So a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy but a still lot of challenges. We will continue to work closely with the Commissioners to end their intervention within the relevant timescales and whilst lots of areas are making good progress, some still have more to do. There are ongoing budgetary challenges and although confident about what needs to be done, we recognise it won’t necessarily be that straightforward.
The city has faced huge budget challenges over the last decade, and that is now replicated in the wider economy as the cost of living crisis has impacted on spending power in the local economy.
Liverpool’s strengths are its really strong international reputation which we need to capitalise on including the culture of the city and its people. The opportunities are huge with the potential to draw in more business, jobs and sustainable growth. To make those opportunities a reality, we need to plan ahead with our partners so we see problems on the horizon and work collaboratively so we don’t get thrown off course when faced with future challenges.
What is your message to the local business community?
First and foremost, the Council is open for business. Please don’t ever hesitate to get in contact with us whether something good, bad or indifferent as we want to support all the good local businesses across the city. It is not just about business banging on our door as we want to reach out and engage directly with you to understand your challenges and how the council can help, recognising that many businesses are facing a tough time at the moment. We recognise that in recent years there has been some criticism from some sectors but I can assure you that under my leadership, and with Andrew Lewis as the new Chief Executive, the local business community represents one of the key groups that we want to be working with hand in glove.
Our local business community is one of the strongest ambassadors for Liverpool and together we can do more. We know locally what our strengths are and where the opportunities lie so let’s not hide our light under a bushel. Together we can make the case to national government, highlighting the key things that Liverpool needs to allow us to strengthen our local economy and contribute to wider national economic growth. Working hand in hand with local businesses can only help to increase our standing on the national stage.
As one of the key business organisations in the city, I have worked with Liverpool Chamber of Commerce in a variety of roles for many years and as a ‘go to’ trusted partner it performs a great role in corralling the wider voice of business in the city. I look forward to continuing that relationship with the Chamber and other business organisations so we can have a genuine two-way dialogue with business.
How can Liverpool capitalise on its profile to support wider economic growth and investment across the region?
Liverpool City Region can’t achieve its full potential without the city of Liverpool at its heart, but equally we can’t do it alone without the wider economic hinterland of the region and beyond. Sometimes that wider economic geography stretches into Cheshire, into Lancashire and even into north Wales and beyond. So I think there is a really important role we can play with the business community right across that wider north west footprint because most businesses, just like most residents, do not lead their lives determined by the lines on a local authority administrative map.
From our perspective it’s about understanding what kind of key role the city can play. We have some really impressive economic assets within the city itself and as I have already mentioned, a strong international brand to attract growth and investment. I’ve worked with Steve Rotheram for many years now and will continue to work closely with him in my new role because for me it’s all about that team working approach, and how we all need to pull in the same direction.
Looking inward, we also need to work with businesses of all sizes across the whole of the city and not just the city centre. Local businesses play a vital role in serving local communities and whilst some are vibrant and thriving, some are facing some really tough challenges and we need to look at how we can support them.
What more can the City Council do to support local businesses through the procurement process creating local jobs and opportunities for local people?
We’re looking very closely at our local procurement processes and how, following the right processes and procedures, we can maximise the local economic value of our spend as a local authority and collectively with other major public sector bodies. Enabling local businesses to compete to win tenders and contracts locally will potentially have a significant impact on the local economy, creating local jobs and increasing local spending power. We believe it should also, crucially, allow them to compete for work on a national footprint in other parts of the country and in some cases internationally.
There are also huge opportunities for local businesses in delivering our net zero targets, including the city region’s ambitious energy projects. Whilst the potential of the tidal energy project is huge there are also opportunities on a different scale, for example, retrofitting homes which benefits so many sectors and not just local construction companies. If funding is available from national government then we want to ensure that our local businesses benefit financially, including the opportunity to bid for further contracts, but it also helps us to achieve wider benefits for our local communities.
The lack of relevant skills remains one of the top issues that our members tell us is stifling growth and productivity. What more can we do collaboratively to address the skills gap?
We will be working to develop a new skills strategy, and we want to do that through engaging with local businesses so we can focus on what key skills are needed. A priority for us is to make sure that not only our young people, but people at every stage of their lifetime journey in the labour market, are accessing the skills, training and retraining that they need. We also need to understand what the job opportunities of the future will be and how our education providers can support young people giving them not only the relevant skills to access job opportunities but also encouraging their aspirations and ambition.
The Schools Business Network that we run in partnership with the Chamber is a great example of how the public and private sector can come together to support both young people and local businesses. It gives many young people the chance to understand what opportunities are out there and how they can access careers they might not have previously considered. So we really appreciate all those local businesses that invest so much of their time but we know it achieves some great results and can even be life changing.
There are so many positive examples of young people who come to the city, graduate and then stay here to develop their careers or even set up their own businesses and we need to build on that, looking at our current offer and ways in which we can improve it, including how we signpost opportunities and the support available for graduates who want to establish a business.
There are already some excellent graduate programmes in the city but I’m really keen to hear from Chamber members about what more you think we could do to improve on that, including the potential to open up discussions with the government for further devolved asks to allow us to shape things like the careers service in the city so we can be more competitive when it comes to keeping our talent.
The example of CashPlus, who recently moved into The Spine is a pertinent one as they deliberately chose Liverpool because of what the city could offer. Partly because of the quality of the office space at The Spine, but also the proximity to the University which gives them access to a direct pipeline of talent that they can tap into, providing young people with a great career in fintech and financial services.
So it’s how we join up those really good local employers with our graduate pool to provide long term career opportunities which in turn can attract new investors to the city.
What can all of us who live or work in Liverpool be excited about in the weeks and months ahead?
Coming out of Eurovision, it is clear how much goodwill there is towards the city. The cultural programme continues to provide excellent opportunities to build on that goodwill as well as providing some great entertainment for us all.
There is also the focus on innovation and growth in the life sciences sector and the ongoing potential of the Knowledge Quarter which continues to go from strength to strength as an investment zone.
We should also celebrate some of the significant regeneration projects across the city. You think about the new stadium at Bramley Moore which has been a catalyst for the regeneration of that whole north Liverpool docks area. Or the opportunities created by the Freeport across the region. All of these are examples of how we can put Liverpool and the wider city region at the forefront when it comes to delivering national initiatives and I want us to do more.
So I think there’s a lot to be ambitious and optimistic about in the city but to be successful we want to work hand in hand with our partners, making sure our door is always open to listen to innovative, positive and achievable ideas on how we can improve things for the future.