As winter begins we find ourselves in the middle of further economic turmoil. Erratic shifts in Government economic strategy are adding to the uncertainty and worry faced by businesses, charities and our wider communities. During COVID-19 we saw a huge spirit of collaboration between local authorities, public and health bodies, charities and private businesses. They offered tangible help and support to the most vulnerable among us.
However, the financial pressures across the board are making life more and more difficult for both individuals and organisations. With the cost of energy soaring and the NHS almost falling over, we all face a challenging few months.
In the last few weeks the Chamber has reached out to our charity members. During the pandemic we saw just how much the third sector plays a pivotal role in holding together the fabric of our society. Now they are worried about the coming months. In many cases their reserves are low and with so many people struggling they are likely to see a fall in donations over the winter. Higher fuel bills means discretionary spend will fall. People do want to give but when they are struggling to heat and light their homes they may have to make hard choices.
Our charitable sector plays a critical role in addressing grassroots poverty, which has grown steadily over the past decade and is now accelerating. They also help fill the gap in the provision of services for people with mental health challenges for which there is now unprecedented demand. At Knowsley Chamber we have launched a new initiative, and are currently collecting and collating information on how businesses are helping their local communities after which we will devise a strategy to support that effort. In the interim the Chamber’s Board of Directors ratified a decision so that each member of our staff can undertake a day’s volunteering that will be fully paid.
And the private businesses that create jobs and prosperity in our economy are also enduring a difficult period. Finance directors are crunching numbers as they grapple with rising energy and input costs. We have been made aware that some investment projects that were ready to go are now being put on hold.
Amid the worry and the gloom, the spirit and optimism that saw us through the pandemic is still there. Liverpool city region’s medium to long-term fundamentals are good. We have a diverse business base with particular strengths in areas such as automotive, advanced manufacturing, logistics, construction and health and life sciences. Liverpool City Region Freeport is due for imminent launch and I think that will offer some valuable opportunities for business growth and investment.
We can do a lot here in the city region. We have the drive, ambition and ingenuity to succeed. But we still need support from Government. Our transport infrastructure is in a poor state. The situation with the Avanti train service between Liverpool and London is just awful, and trying to travel cross country is challenging . People just cannot rely on the rail system right now. I have spoken to a number of business people who are using their cars to go to London when they would normally take the train. Our transport system is currently not fit for purpose.
Here at the Chamber we are also joining in the lobbying effort to persuade the Government to support the fantastic regeneration efforts of Knowsley Council with Levelling Up funding. Knowsley has a strong business base but it remains one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. It was a mystery to all of us why we missed out on the initial rounds of Levelling Up money. I have written three letters urging the Government to offer support in the next round of funding.
However, the lack of cash from Whitehall hasn’t stopped the regeneration momentum. In Prescot we are seeing a cultural and economic renaissance centred around the opening of the £38m Shakespeare North Playhouse. It has brought the town back to life in so many ways. And the council is continuing to step up to the plate with major projects in Kirkby town centre, in Halewood and in Huyton that will make a difference to peoples’ lives. It has just acquired the former Boots building in Huyton village centre and has appointed Liverpool-based MAKE CIC, which has created thriving spaces for ‘makers’ and artists in Liverpool and Wirral. MAKE will manage the property and create a ‘maker space’. This will provide a collaborative hub for making, learning, exploring and sharing.
Collaboration is not just vital at a local level, it also needs to happen at a national level. We are more than playing our part here on the ground. Government needs to step up and support us and help us reach our potential.