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City region can power forward with the right support

It would be easy to indulge in a bout of fatalism right now. There is no escaping the reality that some of our economic indicators are not looking good. Interest rates are rising as the Bank of England seeks to bring inflation back under control. Business costs are at an historic high. Energy prices are eye-watering despite some Government assistance as is the cost of raw materials.

As a chamber we talk to businesses constantly and as we move towards 2023 there are reasons for medium and long-term optimism. Employers in Knowsley have faced unprecedented challenges since the start of the pandemic. We moved from COVID to global and UK economic turmoil and the resilience demonstrated by local companies, the people that run them and their staff, has been remarkable.

And the most up-to-date data we have shows the unemployment rate in Knowsley is holding steady. There are many jobs available, and in some sectors, if anything, firms are still having trouble hiring the right people. The number of people who are economically inactive in the borough is a little below the average for England. Both businesses and individuals face a tough winter, but we still have many strengths.

Our second-biggest employment sector is manufacturing, and it’s doing well at the moment. We have just seen the launch of the Liverpool city region export plan and Knowsley Chamber is playing a very active role in that. In November there’s an event at The Village Hotel that’s being facilitated by Knowsley Council and their partners which will offer some pro-active help to businesses looking to invest and grow. There will be experts who can talk about the different ways to access finance and UKTI will be coming along to talk about exporting.

Right now, the businesses we talk to are being prudent. Whilst they may be holding back on some investment decisions in the current environment, at the same time they are maintaining good relationships with their banks.

With LCR Freeport now imminent there will be multiple opportunities for businesses to benefit from that. Even those areas outside of the Freeport zones, sectors such as warehousing and logistics, which has a strong presence in Knowsley, will see new investment.

Demand for logistics space is high and a new employment site close to the M62 in Knowsley is being brought forward. That has great potential and will prove very timely. Transportation and storage is showing good growth in the borough.

I spoke last month of the frustration that all the good work and activity going on in Knowsley in places such as Prescot, Huyton and Kirkby was not being backed up by tangible Government support. Our borough has inexplicably been left out of Levelling Up funding awards so far. We await news about whether our latest bids have been successful.

And I think that is the wider issue. We are not sitting there passively asking for handouts. At so many levels of our economy - in both the public and private sectors - people with vision and imagination are working hard to innovate. To create growth and jobs.

Much of the talk from Westminster right now is of cutting back on capital projects. Yet we need ongoing investment in areas such as transport. Goods being stuck on roads and a lack of capacity on rail makes it harder to move stuff from A to B. And that costs companies money.

Infrastructure is an enabler of growth. Not investing to improve infrastructure creates inactivity and is a barrier to growth. Brexit has exacerbated this. Where previously exporting to Europe was smooth, now it is tortuous and time-consuming. We need clarity and a better relationship with our biggest sources of overseas trade.

I would also like to see, although I am not too hopeful of an overhaul of the business rates system. It creates huge inequalities for businesses. We have been talking about reform for over a decade now but little has changed.

Government needs to come here and talk to us face-to-face. If they did they would see Liverpool city region is a powerhouse. We have some fanatic assets here and countless innovators with drive and ambition.

The resilience of our businesses is awe-inspiring. They have worked hard to stay afloat and safeguard the jobs of their employees. Imagine what they could achieve if they knew the Government had their backs.

We are not asking for the earth. We just need a little bit of help - and we can do the rest.

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