The government must work with councils, to protect us from the harsh effect of Brexit

Prime minister Theresa May and mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of Liverpool on the government’s lack of planning for Brexit. 

No one should be in any doubt just how big a change to our national political and economic life Brexit will be. But domestic issues matter too – and they are falling off ministers’ agendas.

Just look around. There is a snaking queue of topics that have been abandoned as the government becomes convulsed by Brexit. Our NHS and social care system is buckling under the strain of unfunded demands. We have a housing market that has priced a generation of young people out of home-ownership. A criminal justice system that is struggling to cope. The Universal Credit roll-out – the biggest-ever change in the benefits system – leaving claimants destitute as they wait six weeks for payments. Not to mention that we are a month away from a make or break Budget.

The Chancellor will either signal a change of direction on austerity and usher in a better balance of capital spending between northern and southern parts of this country – or he won’t. At which point, the Northern Powerhouse concept will be stone-cold dead, just when the need to join-up our northern cities in order to realise their economic potential has never been more necessary.

We are in the worst of both worlds. Brexit and the fortunes of the Conservative party have swamped domestic British politics to the point that there is little focus on anything else. It dominates our foreign and domestic agenda, yet we have nothing even close to a national conversation about our economic resilience ahead of leaving the European Union in 2019, despite ministers apparently sitting on dozens of reports into the consequences on different sectors of the economy.

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so there will be businesses and parts of Britain that will benefit from leaving the EU. However, my hunch is that there will be far fewer of the former and many more of the latter. This makes the sheer lack of scenario-planning by Whitehall a national scandal.

We are poorly-equipped for the changes to come and Brexit must be seen as an existential threat to cities like mine. Our local economy has made great strides in recent years – despite the relentless headwind of austerity, which has seen us lose two-thirds of our budget, some £420m, since 2010.

However much ministers urge us to rejoice and see the wondrous potential of Brexit, they are doing nothing to prepare us for the hard reality of finding ourselves outside the European Union and single market.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone on Whitehall’s bridge steering the national economy away from the rocks in front of us. Indeed, the creeping prospect of there being no deal with the European Commission – a hard Brexit – adds yet another layer of uncertainty, while our lopsided economy – already tilted towards the interests of London and financial services – will become even more unbalanced, hurting our major cities outside the capital the most.

Amid such uncertainty at the top of government it’s inevitable that investors’ confidence will be damaged, which will affect growth and hurt jobs and living standards.

For Liverpool – where 58 per cent of voters wanted to remain in the EU – the gamble on Brexit comes at too high a price. But if we are going to leave the European Union it’s a dereliction of duty not to plan and prepare for the predictable effects of Brexit and ministers have a duty to use the forthcoming Budget help shield us from its harsh effects.

Over to you Chancellor.

Joe Anderson is mayor of Liverpool.


Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.

Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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