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The Write Angle - We need to use our voice to get the support we need

Just a few months ago we were talking about the tremendous resilience our small and medium-sized businesses had demonstrated during the pandemic.

There was a mood of great optimism. Businesses I spoke to talked excitedly of their plans to invest, to grow, to digitise, to upskill. However, war in Ukraine and the subsequent spike in energy prices has created a challenge equal to COVID.

Now we face a winter of rocketing fuel prices, presenting both householders and businesses with bills that are simply not sustainable. I remember the 1970s - power cuts and the three-day week. A return to those days is unthinkable.

I spoke to one business owner who told me their energy bill was set to rise by 300%. Businesses simply cannot survive under those circumstances. And what about our schools? How will they pay their energy bills? Are we to see our young peoples’ education disrupted once again so soon after the pandemic?

We can only hope the new Prime Minister will act swiftly to address what is quite simply market failure. But that is not all we want from Government in the coming months. People and businesses across Knowsley are busting a gut to regenerate their borough - and we need the Government to meet us halfway and back our endeavours.

Despite being the second most deprived local authority area in England, Knowsley missed out on the initial round of Levelling Up funding. Other areas of Liverpool city region have received money, and that is welcome. But it is a mystery why Knowsley was overlooked.

Now the council has submitted three fresh Levelling Up bids. It is looking for backing to continue the astonishing renaissance of Prescot and Kirkby and for its ambitious plans for Huyton town centre.

Recently I met with Melanie Lewis, chief executive of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, which opened in July. Long before its completion it was already acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the town centre.

We saw independent businesses moving and existing retailers investing to improve their offer. They were doing what entrepreneurs do best, taking risks and investing to grow. Melanie told me that since the theatre opened the people of Knowsley have flocked in their thousands.

Shakespeare North, of course, is built to bring in people from across the north and further afield, and it is already doing that. But it is heartening to see how people in the borough have already taken it to their hearts.

Across Prescot it has inspired a real feeling of renewal and people locally are already demonstrating a sense of ownership about the theatre. They are not just booking tickets for shows, they are coming at all times of the day, even if it is just a coffee.

This new dynamic has spread across the town centre. Eccleston Street is now a hub of cafe culture. It would have been hard to imagine that not so long ago.

So people on the ground are doing their bit. It is time for the Government to say ‘we have your backs’. As great as the local efforts are, there are macro factors in the economy that are beyond their control.

This is where Government must step in and help us to keep the momentum going. I believe the key to securing Levelling Up funding is effective lobbying. Myself and people in Knowsley Council are speaking to whomever we can. And I am urging local businesses to use their own channels as much as possible to amplify our voices.

Our private sector can and does play a huge role in our growth and prosperity. I see that not only in Prescot but throughout Knowsley and across the Liverpool city region.

I am one of the judges for the Merseyside Independent Business Awards. The ceremony returns this autumn for the first time since COVID hit. All the entrants I have seen are shining examples of what people can achieve.

But the reality is that efforts will not be enough on its own, particularly in the current economic climate. Their efforts need to be backed up by Government. Public and private sectors working together is the most effective way of delivering regeneration. Lord Heseltine showed us how powerful an alliance that can be.

Knowsley was left behind in the first rounds of funding. It is critical we get the support we need this time around. Now is the time to use our voices as loudly and as clearly as possible to win that backing. That is how we will continue to blossom and grow.

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