So much is talked about the importance of leadership. And what I have seen on the national stage in the last few weeks, and what I have seen in our local communities, has brought that home to me like never before.
At the time of writing Boris Johnson has announced his resignation as Prime Minister. Although we are yet to learn of how long he will remain in office before a replacement is chosen.
The news of his departure only serves to reinforce my belief that leaders cannot be repeatedly dishonest or expect to hold such high office for so long. Most of the people I speak to talk about the importance of trust and integrity. Once that has gone you have very little left on which to build.
In recent weeks, in my role as High Sheriff of Merseyside, I have been invited to and attended more than 80 events. At Merseyside Community Training I spoke to young people who are looking to start their own businesses.
They have been through intense mentoring and skills-building. And what emerged from those conversations was a sense that leadership is not just about ambition, and enthusiasm and determination. It is also about integrity and being responsible and being aware of your impact on the world around us.
We are not party political at the Chamber and I don’t think this issue is about party politics. It is about ethical leadership, whatever political party you may represent.
With the cost of living crisis showing no signs of easing we, as a country, are facing a difficult autumn and winter. That will impact our families and our communities. It also means some very difficult decisions for our local businesses as they are currently grappling with soaring costs of fuel, energy, and continuing shortages in the supply chain.
More than ever we need a strategy from Government. We need deeds and not just words. This is what leadership is about, and on my travels to all the boroughs of our city region I have encountered incredible leaders, including those within our local communities. They run and work at charities and social enterprises and other organisations. In some areas the fabric of our civil society is tearing and these individuals are holding it together with their bare hands.
I met the people running Netherton Community Grocery. The work they do is extraordinary. They are making sure families are getting the food they need. They also offer debt advice. This is being provided, in some cases, by retired professionals who have given up their time for free to help others.
Everton in the Community invited me to see their plans for a legacy project for the Walton area around Goodison Park. This will be a community campus that will be created when Everton FC leaves the area for its new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.
When I was there I met Steven Baker, head of the Everton Free School. He is such an incredible guy. He is working with young people who, in some cases, have been excluded from other schools. Everton FC’s motto is nil satis nisi optimum which translates as ‘nothing but the best is good enough’. Steven told me that is the philosophy of the school. He is helping to turn around people’s lives. His work is remarkable and he is everything a leader should be.
On my travels around the city region I have met countless people such as Steven. People are working, sometimes against near-impossible odds, to keep their communities and businesses going. They will never be politicians or run for office in most cases but they are exactly the kind of people we need right now.
One of the positive shifts we are seeing in business is the much greater emphasis on wider social responsibility. Funders and investors and those in charge of frameworks are now increasingly looking at the ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) of companies and organisations.
Businesses are having to demonstrate commitments to diversity, to inclusion to sustainability and decarbonisation. And these are not just box-ticking exercises. You have to be able to demonstrate that your actions match your words.
And the good news is that many of the businesses that I meet are embracing this change. They are acknowledging their wider responsibilities and their part in holding up the social contract.
What they, and the community leaders I talked about earlier, need from Government more than ever is a clear message that ‘we have your backs’. So far the money we have been allocated for Levelling Up is having to be managed very carefully because, in truth, it just isn’t enough.
At the top of Government we need leaders who recognise that it is not just about the big projects, as important as they are, but also about the fabric of our society and the wellbeing of our communities. We need Government that puts its focus on the grassroots – that would be real leadership.