Liverpool shows how a city can stand out to investors

The Liver Building. Image: Getty.

In an increasingly connected world, cities are in constant competition with each other to be noticed by investors. Quality, authenticity and diversity are the winning formula for creating a city that attracts attention, people and investment. But how can you make this happen?

In fact, the best piece of advice you can give to a city is the same you would give your children – just try to be your very best self.

Liverpool is a great example of a city that has heeded this advice. This city has a powerful brand that not only distinguishes it from other cities in the UK, but also from its global competitors. Liverpool balances historic assets and achievements with its current and future market opportunities.

The very DNA of Liverpool is global and diverse, from its 19th century port that transported people and ideas all over the world, to today’s bustling knowledge quarter welcoming thousands of foreign students to study every year. It is one of the fastest growing parts of the UK economy outside London and the South East, with a trading and exporting reputation that makes it even more attractive in a post Brexit economy.

This business heritage is matched in arts and culture: the music scene of the 1960s, the continuing power of football, and its cultural heritage of drama, language and the UNESCO status waterfront make it an attractive destination for visitors from around the world.

But the more a city develops its economic fundamentals, the more it will have to compete with other cities with equally powerful characteristics. This is when the personality of the city – its unique traits and qualities – becomes more important in separating it from those challengers.

When it comes to attracting investment, how can you understand the mind of your investor? Broadly speaking, there are two types of different but related types of analyses your investor will undertake: an economic and a mood analysis.

Firstly, an investor will look at the city’s economic fundamentals. They will assess a city’s potential by looking at infrastructure and governance, as well as whether it has a highly skilled workforce and strong connectivity.

Secondly, place quality will be analysed. What is it like to live here? Does the city have a rich culture and history? Is the housing and environmental quality good? Are the schools performing well and innovative? Does it have a diverse population? Does the city feel creative, welcoming, innovative – open to new ideas and new blood? Striking this balance is not easy, but it is achievable for a city with the right approach.

People also play a key role in the development of cities. Smart decision-makers understand the significance of attracting and retaining skilled workers. People tend to move to cities for economic reasons like careers and job opportunities, but they will only stay if the city offers them a good quality of life. A solid environment, distinctive architecture, cultural facilities and quality housing are some of the elements that people consider when looking at a city to live, work or invest in. The quality of life for workers and their families is an increasingly important factor and this should be a critical part of the city’s branding.

In our globalised world, place quality becomes more important for a city trying to differentiate itself from the competition. It is not just the economic story of a city that counts, but also its unique qualities that distinguish it from other cities domestically and internationally.

 So for cities that want to stand out, make sure you shout just as loudly about your quirks and eccentricities as well as your economic fundamentals, to be truly successful.    

Professor Michael Parkinson CBE is associate pro vice chancellor for civic engagement at the University of Liverpool. He will be speaking at the 2018 International Business Festival, on Urbanisation & Cities day, 13 June 2018. To find out more and buy tickets, click here.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.