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February 17, 2014 9:00 pm
Liverpool and Glasgow are so alike they could almost be twins. The west coast ports share Irish influence, football and a self-image as the New York of Europe. Both have lived through a similar decline and regeneration.
So there was delight on the Mersey and outrage on the Clyde last month, when a think-tank suggested the English city was outstripping its Scottish counterpart in job creation.
The Centre for Cities said Liverpool had achieved one of the UK’s best performances in 2010-12, adding 12,800 private sector jobs, which outweighed 5,400 lost in the public sector. Glasgow was ranked 62nd out of 63 cities and towns, losing 7,800 private sector and 6,800 public sector jobs.
Glasgow City Council contested the figures, saying it had lost fewer than 500 private sector jobs in the two years. “We think we have weathered the recession relatively well,” a spokesman said.
The two ports in the past vied to be the second city of the British empire as they grew prosperous on sugar, tobacco, cotton and slavery. When trade shifted east to the EU and old industries such as shipbuilding and marine engineering declined, both struggled to reinvent themselves.
However, these days their rivalry is more with their near neighbours, respectively Edinburgh and Manchester, than with each other.
They are pursuing similar strategies – a public-private sector effort alongside local universities seeking to attract investment in “knowledge-economy” sectors such as life sciences, advanced manufacturing and financial services.
Liverpool has set store by a £300m investment in a deep water quay to help revive its once-declining docks. Glasgow is attracting a growing number of “centres of excellence” in areas such as renewable energy.
In July, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games, which has brought £184m of contracts to local businesses and gives it a platform to advertise itself to the world.
Liverpool will trumpet its attractions by hosting a government-backed International Festival for Business in June and July aimed at bringing in 250,000 visitors and £100m of inward investment.
Almost all of the UK’s large former industrial cities have achieved some success in reviving their fortunes in the past 20 years, but find themselves lagging further behind ever advancing London.
Glasgow’s regeneration began earlier than Liverpool’s, marked by the 1983 “Glasgow’s Miles Better” campaign, at a time when Liverpool came under control of the Militant Tendency, a Trotskyist group within the Labour party.
Since then the data suggest they have pulled closer together. Glasgow slightly outperforms Liverpool in its employment rate, business start-ups and workplace earnings and does substantially better in the proportion of residents with high-level qualifications.
Optimism in Glasgow has been buoyed by £6bn of public and private investment, including the £1bn South Glasgow Hospitals Campus, three office developments, an International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone and a new headquarters for Iberdrola’s Scottish Power subsidiary.
Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said the city would reap benefits over the next two to three years: “I am not expecting a sudden boom in private sector employment but steady growth, particularly in engineering and energy.”
In Liverpool, the port’s revival has attracted new companies. B & M Bargains, the discount retailer, moved to the city to be close to its east Asian imports. Maersk, the Danish shipping line, has also established an office.
The car factory at Halewood, now owned by Jaguar Land Rover, makes the best-selling Evoque and has tripled its workforce to more than 4,500 in four years. Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s Labour mayor, praised the economic growth. But he warned that too many jobs were part-time or involved zero-hour contracts.
As big employers recruit, the city still lacks smaller, entrepreneurial companies, with just 210 businesses per 10,000 residents, a third less than the national average.
Jenny Stewart, chief executive of Liverpool chamber, said: “We hear it time and again in Liverpool – there simply aren’t enough businesses to realise the market’s full potential. However, there’s certainly no lack of creativity or ambition.”
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