“In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade”: in the wake of Brexit, we need devolution more than ever

Brexit campaigner Liam Fox standing before a promise he will now, as trade minister, have to deliver. Good luck with that. Image: Getty.

There remains great uncertainty in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. Few seem to have a plan for what Brexit will look like and how the UK’s relationship with the outside world will take shape.

But while the desire for sovereignty and to “take back control” were top of many voters' list of reasons to vote to leave, the fact that we live in a globalised world where economies and trade supersede national boundaries cannot be ignored.

Much of the confusion about how Brexit will affect the British economy has resulted from the inability of those for and against it to acknowledge the realities of the position of the UK in the contemporary global economy. This failure to understand the realities of globalisation is partly why there is such confusion about how to deliver the kind of post-Brexit UK demanded by those who voted leave. But regaining national sovereignty is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in today’s global economy.

The interconnected world

The recent global financial crisis should have sent a powerful message. The degree of interconnection between places in the global economy has reached unprecedented levels and attempts to “unpick” these interconnections are highly problematic.

Globalisation is complex. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. Capital, goods and services flow within, between and across national borders – and the flow is uneven. It is often directed through key cities. So when we talk about flows of foreign direct investment between the UK and Germany, we are actually discussing flows of people and money between cities such as London and Berlin.

In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade. It is no surprise therefore that there were significantly higher votes to remain in the EU in cities such as London and Manchester. This is because these cities are points in the global economy through which trade, services and people flow. It is in these locations that we can most easily see the benefits of interconnection with cities in the EU and beyond.

Cities have benefited disproportionately from globalisation. Image: Andy Sedg/creative commons.

Outside of the major cities, the regions of the UK have experienced a downward shift in the scale at which economic activity takes place and political power is exercised. The national shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy has had a geographically uneven impact. Many manufacturing industries in the UK’s regions have shrunk or disappeared. This has not been helped by UK national policy which focuses on the financial services sector (predominately in London).

Globalisation’s disconnect

Globalisation has brought with it disconnection between the way that economies and their management have been simultaneously downscaled and upscaled. So, as well as the concentration of decision making in Westminster, there are also a number of decisions being made abroad that affect regions across the UK: the evolution of the European Union epitomises this process.

This upscaling of power is necessary. Many of the most important issues of the last three decades are shared across national boundaries – take for example environmental concerns. The formation of supra-regions begins with an acknowledgement of the benefits of removing trade barriers and having free movement of goods and services, which should create opportunities for all regions of the UK.

Cross-border concerns are better shared. Image: motiqua/flickr/creative commons.

In fact, the best hope for deprived areas of the UK is not to place decision making squarely back in the hands of the UK government. This gives power back to the very institutions that created and exacerbated the regional inequalities seen in the UK today. Benefits such as investment in local enterprises and infrastructure, improvements in working conditions and levels of employment result from international engagement and cooperation.

Those who – justifiably – feel isolated and economically depressed should call for greater decision-making power at a more local level. Local power, combined with access to international resources and opportunities, can start rebuilding local economies.


Globalisation makes this possible as cities and regions do not necessarily need to go via London for trade and investment. These connections are essential for local economies to compete in the globalised world.

But leaving the EU means leaving the hundreds of trade agreements the UK has with non-EU countries, and also possibly the freedom of movement of goods and services there is within the EU. Until these are rearranged (which will take several decades), the UK’s constituent regions may struggle to access international markets. So the “take back control” rhetoric offers no solutions, only problems.

The UK government has consistently failed to articulate the rationale and benefits of upscaling in its relations globally (specifically in the form of EU membership), despite the economic benefits it has brought. It is not about the removal of national boundaries but rather an acceptance of how so much of what drives the global economy occurs outside of these strict boundaries.

Closer economic cooperation is the only logical response to globalisation and the best way to ensure stable growth. Indeed, the short, medium and long-term impacts of the Brexit vote will surely serve to provide the UK with a harsh lesson in the dangers of going it alone.The Conversation

Jennifer Johns is senior lecturer in international business and economic geography at the University of Liverpool.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.