What does the data tell us about the work ahead of Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram?

Steve Rotheram, the new mayor of the Liverpool City Region. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Europe’s cities.

The first thing to say about the Liverpool City Region – or LCR, as its jauntier fans call it – is that it’s not the same as Merseyside.

It does contain that late lamented metropolitan county’s five boroughs, sure (Wirral, Sefton, St Helens, Knowsley, plus the City of Liverpool itself). But it also contains neighbouring Halton (that’s Runcorn and around), just off to the east. Many argue that it should be bigger still – just ask Dave – but the addition of Halton alone is already enough to knacker hope anyone data-minded had of just using the numbers on Merseyside.

Luckily, though, the Centre for Cities is here to help. The latest in its increasingly numerous series of data tools pulls together the numbers of the six combined authorities which recently elected their first metro mayors, and enables you to compare the stats on the LCR with those of the nation as a whole. That in turn should give you a sense of the sort of problems facing the region’s newly minted Labour mayor Steve Rotheram.

So – what’s on the to do list? Fire up the okay you get the idea let’s just get on with it.

The skills gap

Well, for one thing, the region’s educational stats aren’t looking too healthy: they’ve improved, but still, nearly one in eight Liverpolitans has no qualifications:

Its schools are below average, too:

It has more apprenticeship starts, though:

The fact this was also true of the West Midlands makes me suspect that’s a correlation, not a coincidence. In parts of the country struggling with skills gaps, the authorities seem more enthusiastic about trying out new-fangled vocational training schemes.

The money stuff

The local economy is a bit of a challenge too. The Liverpool City Region’s job growth has been lower than the national average:

 

So the employment rates are significantly below the national average...

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...as are benefit claimant rates...

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...and wages:

The good stuff

But look, we all know what you really come here to read. One of the mayor’s biggest areas of power is going to be over the region’s transport infrastructure. What’s going on there then?

Well, surprisingly little. The number of journeys on the local commuter rail network have increased in the last few years, but really only slightly:

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While the number of bus journeys has been basically – I’m actually kind of shocked – in freefall, falling four times faster than the national average:

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The devolution deal gives the city region’s authorities the powers to introduce London-style bus franchising. Under the current system, it’s a free for all, with private bus companies competing to serve busy routes and ignoring quieter ones. Under the new one, the city authorities will be able to specify fares and service levels.

This – if you view public transport as a vital piece of city infrastructure, rather than just an opportunity to make a few quid – seems to make a lot more sense. Let’s hope Rotherham loves buses as much as we do.

You can explore the data yourself here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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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.