Brexit will bring with it enough challenges and we must set aside politics and act in our best economic interests.

Posted by Liverpool and Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 23rd, Jun

There was a collective sigh of relief in the business world this week when Chancellor Phillip Hammond said “jobs and prosperity’ would top the agenda in the Brexit negotiations.

He talked about a three-point plan for Britain’s exit from the EU… a comprehensive trade agreement, a transitional deal after the 2019 deadline and a commitment to open borders.

This will be music to the ears of businesses, particularly exporters, across the Liverpool city region who were alarmed by Theresa May’s initial combative approach to the talks with her “no deal is better than a bad deal” comment.

Future prosperity

This isn't an episode of Dad’s Army. This is the real world where our future prosperity is strongly linked to a continuing solid relationship with Europe.

We don’t want to argue with our European neighbours or play politics with the millions of workers who have prospered thanks to free movement. We simply want to do business with them.

Free movement, in particular, is a major issue for many firms in the Liverpool city region, particularly those finding it difficult to recruit skilled workers.

Hard-hitting report

Today EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, has published a new report - ‘Making migration work for manufacturers: Accessing skills in a post-Brexit world’.

In the report it warned that ending free movement of skilled workers from the EU to the UK could have a “chilling” effect on North West manufacturers.

It is calling on the Government to move swiftly to give companies early certainty that they will continue to be able to recruit low-skilled EU nationals until the UK labour market is able to support businesses’ demand with home-grown workers.

Hard to recruit

The report reveals that three quarters of manufacturers have struggled to fill engineering roles. 

This figure is set to rise, it claims, if we see post-Brexit restrictions to migration which apply a cap for companies employing EU staff, along the lines of the current rules currently in force for non-EU employees working in the UK.

Manufacturers interviewed as part of the report said they need unfettered access to “appropriate workers” with the skills industry needs, adding that European employees should be able to come to the UK to work for up to five years.

Skills gap

There is no question we need to upskill our home-grown workforce and Liverpool & Sefton Chamber has long championed the idea that a major investment in training and apprenticeships is the key to raising productivity levels, both at a regional and national level.

But in the short to medium-term firms need access to a pipeline of skilled workers.

Brexit will bring with it enough challenges and we must set aside politics and act in our best economic interests.

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Posted by Brabners

Thu 08th, Jun

Negotiating a transaction

When approaching a transaction experience has shown us some of the key considerations are as follows:

  • Information - each party should learn as much as possible about the other so that they are better able to understand areas of leverage, easy gives and no go areas.
  • Leverage - the parties should evaluate the intrinsic factors of need, desire, competition and time pressures. For example, if a company’s business critical IT system fails they will need a replacement system straight away. As they enter into a deal for the supply of such a system their need will be high, they will be under considerable time pressure. Unless the system is easy and quick to procure from many competing suppliers, their leverage is less than someone who can wait several months to purchase a new system.
  • Analysis - the parties should carefully consider what all of the issues are, aiming to have no unknowns. They should consider also outside impacts and understand what they can control and what they cannot control. They should aim to isolate each issue and specifically reflect upon the relative importance of each individually.
  • Rapport - it is key to establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with the other party. This can help to determine what type of negotiator each party is dealing with and whether or not they are likely to be cooperative.
  • Expectations - it is important to set realistic expectations and then work to achieve them.
  • Plan - the parties should have a flexible plan and strategy for the negotiation, flexible because unknowns and uncontrollables arise. A plan enables a party to drive negotiations.
  • Available outcomes and alternative options - if the negotiation stalls and the parties reach deadlock it is important to effectively evaluate what the best alternative would be. You should always seek to understand what your own and the other side’s worst case scenario is. In the disposal of a company, the best alternative could be that another buyer immediately agrees to purchase the business at a better price. The worst alternative could be that a new buyer isn’t found and the company continues to operate. By contrast, the worst case scenario might be that the management team walk, that the buyer takes the customers or staff or that the business runs out of funds. As well as weighing up your own best and worst alternatives it is vital to be aware of the other side’s and also to have consideration as to whether or not they will be aware of your own. This enables pre-emption of the tactics the other side will employ in negotiation and allows an appropriate fall back, bottom line position to be set.

 

Negotiating Brexit

The opposing sides in the Brexit negotiations have been doing their homework, gathering and analysing the information. The UK and EU are now laying out their opening positions. This is not going to be a quick negotiation, Article 50 specifies that the parties have two years to negotiate the withdrawal and the UK’s future relationship with the EU. By comparison, trade deals usually take decades to negotiate.

At this starting point in the negotiations, there are no immediate time pressures. It is acknowledged by both sides that there is much to achieve in the timescales, but given the short termism of politics, the time pressures are not yet taking any priority or providing any leverage in the negotiations. As a result, neither side has been prepared to take a particularly reasonable initial position, no easy wins will be given at this stage. In other words both sides have adopted aggressive unilateral positions in an effort to retain all of their respective bargaining chips.

Theresa May started by taking any monies the UK may or may not owe in the “divorce” off the table unless a sensible trade agreement can be reached, so seeking to prioritise the trade agreement over Brexit. This is at odds with the EU position, who wish to secure the terms of the “divorce”, especially the financial terms, before they will allow any concessions and favours in any trade agreement. The relatively easy ‘gives’ for the both sides, for example, the rights of EU citizens already resident in the UK and vice versa, are currently not on the negotiating table. From the UK’s perspective, raising and dealing with these at this stage would be prioritising the divorce, rather than prioritising a trade deal.

The way in which each party has laid out their positions and reacted says quite a bit about the negotiation behaviour that each party is looking to use. Theresa May appears to have taken a quiet but firm approach, with some no go areas raised early. This has been proposed and discussed in private over dinner, backed up with conversations entered into by her negotiating team with their opposition. She has attempted to establish a personal rapport with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, to enable principle issues to be aired, whilst keeping the detail of the negotiations out of the public eye.

Juncker has sought to establish himself as the EU’s “negotiator” and middle man. He has listened to what May is saying, but has proposed nothing and given nothing away. At this stage it suits him to negotiate as the mouthpiece of the members and he has stressed the need for the Commission to keep the EU Parliament and member states informed throughout the process. His position is at odds with that of Theresa May. Juncker sought to illustrate the power of this position by publicly unleashing the voices of his 27 members (apparently as one) when he reportedly stated he left ‘Downing Street 10 times more sceptical’ than he was before he arrived. A series of leaks from his visit have cast doubt on any genuine rapport between him and May.

Juncker has, in addition, claimed that the UK has not done its homework and is ill prepared. He claims that Theresa May has unrealistic expectations and believes that she cannot allow the UK to land in what he considers to be its worst case scenario, one where no deal is made. Theresa May has refuted each point, has claimed her position is perfectly reasonable as are the UK’s expectations, is apparently comfortable that all information gathering has been done and the team are fully conversant with all issues to be negotiated and resolved. On 2 February 2017 the UK produced a white paper entitled The United Kingdom’s exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union. Tucked away at the bottom was the following quote:

‘The Government is clear that no deal for the UK is better than a bad deal for the UK’

These two opposing tactics are unlikely to yield much in the way of progress. They oppose each other in such a way that there cannot be a meeting of minds, a real negotiation. If Juncker continues to listen in private and retort in public, less will be said in private and the party’s positions will become intractable. Within the context of a corporate transaction, at this stage, we would look to identify between which other individuals on the opposing teams a rapport could be built, whilst at the same time seeking to mend the damage already done. Obviously, various other tactics and behaviours will already be being used behind closed doors between the negotiating teams, as well as between the various states.

Any agreement between the EU and UK requires the ascent of the ‘qualified majority’, in other words 72% of the member states. One of the key considerations that the UK will have analysed (and will continually re-evaluate) is whether remaining 27 states are speaking as one, through Junker. Each member state may have different and potentially competing best and worst alternatives in the negotiation. This ultimately adds to the complexity of the negotiation and makes Juncker’s actions high risk. He has a powerful position whilst the member states appear to be as one, whether or not he has a rapport with his opposition; but if that ceases to be the case, then he will quickly cease to have any purpose in the negotiations (no longer the mouthpiece and with a negative rapport with the other side) and he would then be seen as obstructive and will be side-lined.

Any ‘deal’ will require, from both sides, creativity and empathy for the other’s position. Many concessions will be required to achieve this. The posturing we have just seen is just the initial positioning of the parties. The positions are not yet close enough for real negotiations to start. We would expect revised opening positions from at least one of the parties in order to provide a platform from which they can reasonably start to make concessions.

Whilst the opening positions of both the UK and EU remain far apart it remains to be seen how the negotiation will unfold. Adopting the transactional approach, seeking a common ground for a meeting of minds is most likely to provide a positive solution for both sides.

For more information on the topic, please contact Head of Corporate at BrabnersMark Rathbone, on 0161 600 3124 or via email.

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 02nd, Jun

This week, after a brief albeit poignant pause, campaigning for the General Election has resumed – and boy has it gathered some pace.

When Prime Minister Theresa May called the election in April, many commentators forecast it would be one of the dullest ever.

The Conservatives were a country mile ahead in the polls and the consensus was it would be more of a procession than a race.

How wrong they were.

Labour’s campaign has gathered momentum and Jeremy Corbyn has been a more accomplished performer on the stump than many had given him credit for.

In contrast, Theresa May’s ‘strong and stable’ message has gone a bit pear-shaped following her dramatic u-turn on the social care cap.

With less than a week to go, the polls have narrowed significantly and we may have a genuine contest on our hands.

On the agenda

Those of us in the business world must ensure that our voice is heard louder than ever in these final few days.

Entrepreneurs and businesses, large and small, are the engine of the economy. The wealth we create will pay for the policy pledges you have been hearing.

After the Government’s u-turn on a proposed rise in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed earlier this year, I called for a wider debate on how we value entrepreneurship.

This chimes with the manifesto put forward by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) which is calling for a commitment to no extra taxes for business, a reform of the broken business rates system, a greater focus on work-focused education and training, and a recognition that a migration policy must reflect the requirements of the labour market.

Challenging period

Suren Thiru, head of economics & business finance at the BCC, said: “Tackling these longstanding issues has become even more pressing with the UK economy set to enter a more challenging period.

“Yet you wouldn’t really know this from reading the various party manifestos that have been published with political posturing largely put ahead of the need to create the best possible conditions for long-term economic growth.”

Take part in our survey

And with uncertainty set to continue even after our new government are announced, it is perhaps more important than ever to make your voice heard.

You can help contribute by completing the BCC’s Quarterly Economic Survey – which will enable the BCC to lobby on your behalf to ensure the next Government create an environment that allows businesses to grow and prosper.

The last survey saw more than 7,300 responses from companies across the UK.

We will unveil both the regional and national results from the latest survey at our QES breakfast briefing on Friday 21 July at One Mann Island on Liverpool’s waterfront.

John Young, the Bank of England agent for the North West, will join other local business leaders on our discussion panel.

Responses to the survey are welcome until Monday 12 June and should take no more than five minutes to complete. Click here to take part.

We thank you for your input and your help in providing this vital snapshot of our economy.

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 12th, May

We now live and work simultaneously in two worlds - the physical and the virtual - and investment in both is essential for our future growth and prosperity.

In the last few days, issues at the top of the election agenda have been Brexit, as always, and immigration.

But let's also think about things nearer to home. Investment in domestic infrastructure is critical. Not only in transport and skills but connectivity in the wider sense of a digital infrastructure. 

Productivity gap

We recently published the results of the chamber's Quarterly Economic Survey and spoke about the productivity gap in the north. 

We have the energy and enthusiasm and know-how to close that gap but we are also being held back by a lack of physical and virtual (digital) infrastructure investment.

According to the Institute for Public Policy research, the current national infrastructure pipeline shows that there is a £1,515 per capita gap in projected spending between London and the North.

Digital slow lane

18% of UK businesses don’t have a reliable internet connection. When you consider how much that affects productivity, it's unacceptable in 2017. 

I can speak from personal experience. Internet coverage in my home, just a couple of miles from Liverpool city centre, is frankly non-existent. Less than 2mb, means that I rely on the 4G network, to stay in touch, and follow up with members when I am at home. 

At a recent event with the Chamber, the city’s elected Mayor Joe Anderson asked our members to tell him what they needed to enable them to grow their businesses. 

A lack of decent digital connectivity was one of the major issues raised.

Port investment 

Peel Ports has put its money where its mouth is by investing £400m in the new Liverpool2 deep water port facility.

It has the potential to revolutionise the UK’s logistics market by attracting many of the imported goods that currently arrive at Southern ports to instead come in through the Mersey.

We could see thousands of jobs created in the logistics sector across the North West but for that to work we need a transport infrastructure that is able to cope with this massive surge in freight traffic.

That means investment in both the road and rail networks.

Capacity call

Sometimes the question is asked: Would we prefer the HS2 high-speed rail link to London, or the HS3 line across the North of England? The obvious answer is we need both.

We need every inch of extra rail capacity we can get our hands on.

I think many of us would agree that when we get on a train we need three things. 1. A seat 2. Wifi 3. A cup of coffee. Getting there quicker isn't necessarily a problem, just get us there on time. If the time spent travelling can be spent comfortably and productively, then we as business people will use that time gratefully to work without the normal interruptions of busy office life. 

In the north however, our journey times to our closest cities are appalling.  A journey of 80 miles can take longer than getting to London. I often ask members to imagine an infrastructure such as the London Tube, with its 250 miles of track being placed over Manchester, with connections to Liverpool to the West and Sheffield to the East. The connectivity encourages business growth, creates jobs and allows people to choose where they live and work. It connects our northern population of 15 million and if you think about it, some whole countries don't even have a population that big! Now that's a powerhouse economy- a northern powerhouse! 

The election manifesto for the British Chambers of Commerce calls on the next Government to “revolutionise” the UK’s physical and digital infrastructure.

Here in the Liverpool city region we would add that the revolution needs to focus on the areas where it is needed the most - here in the North.

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 05th, May

One down and one to go - elections that is.

We offer our congratulations to Labour’s Steve Rotheram, who has been elected as Liverpool City Region’s first Metro Mayor.

As existing MP for Walton who was born and bred in the city, Steve knows the region’s strengths - and the challenges we face.

It is also encouraging that he has experience of running a business, so is familiar with the issues our entrepreneurs and wealth-creators face on a daily basis.

Key areas

Earlier this year, the influential think tank, Centre for Cities, identified three key areas on which the new mayor can “hit the ground running”.

The same priorities have been identified over some time, training, school standards and transport infrastructure, by business and civic leaders. 

Skills gap

The training and skills gap is holding back companies across the UK, and particularly here in our own city region. They are a barrier to increasing productivity.  As identified in our latest Quarterly Economic Survey, firms are still being held back by a shortage of skilled people.

We need more high-level apprenticeships as a matter of urgency and I hope the new city region Mayor makes this a top priority.

Schools standards

We also know that standards in our schools are below average in some parts of our region.

Late last year, Heather Duggan, headteacher at Archbishop Blanch in Liverpool, spoke at one of the chamber's breakfast networking events.

She said: “We are trying to teach some young people who, when they first arrive in the school, don’t even know how to use a knife and fork… just getting them to a point where they leave us with qualifications is a huge achievement.”

Heather’s revelation stirred a shocked response with a number of people in the room. It is clear that raising educational standards also needs to be at the top of the agenda.

Getting around 

Thriving cities require connectivity and at the chamber we have long championed this issue.

Not only do we need national and international connections - access to HS2, an air link with Heathrow - we also need drastic improvements in the northern transport system, a Crossrail for the North. 

The Connectivity of the cities of the north will drive demand, stimulate jobs and grow the economy. Right now as we look towards exiting the European Union we have the opportunity to press ahead with vital infrastructure investments. The north needs to pull its weight to make the UK a strong trading partner. We need to take the steps to re-balance the economy, so that our northern powerhouse becomes reality. 

There's a big job on. It will take grit and determination and a city region which pulls together. In the words of George Osborne at the British Chambers of Commerce Conference "we have the makings of a revolution" let's own it. 

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 28th, Apr

This week we have published the results of our latest Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) and you can see the report here.

In summary, it showed a mixed picture with the positivity of a relatively strong performance for city region firms in the first three months of this year tempered by the expectation of falling turnover and profits in the coming 12 months.

The survey was, of course, carried out prior to th e announcement of the General Election, set to take place on June 8. It will be interesting to see how that impacts on our next QES.

In the report, I have described the indices around business confidence for the coming 12 months as stark, though the intention from businesses to continue investing is much more heartening.

Overall it could be said to be a confusing and inconclusive picture, which perfectly sums up the times were are now living in.

From the mid-1990s up until late 2007 local, regional and national economies were on a long upward trajectory.

There were almost certainly things we weren’t happy with, but we can now very much look back on that period as ‘the good old days’.

It was perhaps fortunate timing that much of Liverpool’s economic renaissance from the dark days of the 1970s and 80s took place during that period. It gave us a resilience for the tough times that followed.

Certainly Liverpool One, which has been transformational for the city centre, was completed in the nick of time.

Since then we have endured a recession, a coalition Government that went full-throttle on austerity and then had to apply the brakes, a Referendum which to many peoples’ dismay saw us vote to leave the EU, and now a General Election.

It has been a terribly unsettling time for businesses large and small.

So what is remarkable is that, amid all the chaos, upheaval and uncertainty, many companies remain upbeat and optimistic for the future.

We know from our own export team how many local businesses are seeing Brexit as a golden opportunity to explore new markets.

There are more tough times ahead - more austerity, protracted Brexit negotiations, political and social upheaval at home and abroad - but the clear message from our members is we are ready to meet the challenges ahead. So bring it on.

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 21st, Apr

With all the excitement over the announcement of the General Election in June, you could be forgiven for forgetting that we have another important election coming up, and soon!

Just next month, Thursday May 4, the Liverpool City Region will vote for our first Metro Mayor.

So, that’s two of the most momentous votes in a generation taking place within five weeks of each other.

And with new power comes new hope and new opportunity, and there can be no better time to make our case for significant infrastructure investment into the city region so we can give our economy a turbo boost.

Period of calm

Businesses like certainty and they prefer a settled economic and political landscape.

And while the run-up to both ballots creates some temporary uncertainty, the outcome may just provide a period of political and economic calm - something we have badly needed since the financial crash almost a decade ago.

This General Election is without doubt a one issue vote. Whatever the outcome, the government of the day will have a clear mandate from the people.

New opportunities

Business confidence in the Liverpool City Region is at an all-time high. Bold, strategic, and steadfast leadership will be required to ensure it continues.  The new Metro-Mayor will need to be ready to hit the ground running to establish strong links with the newly elected government, with a clear and compelling case for investment into the city region and the wider Northern Powerhouse at the ready. A Crossrail for the North must be top of that list.

Strong leadership

Earlier this year, Sir Howard Bernstein stepped down as chief executive of Manchester City Council after almost two decades of dynamic and transformational leadership.

He put aside partisan politics and forged strong links with both Labour and Conservative Governments and Manchester has reaped the rewards of that. We need our new Metro Mayor to have the same impact.

Both elections have the potential to have a profound effect on our regions economy for years to come so, whoever you vote for, make your choice an informed one.

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As we enter a new tax year, I find it disconcerting to see that the cost of doing business is rising.

Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 07th, Apr

As we enter a new tax year, I find it disconcerting to see that the cost of doing business is rising. 

At a time when the need for business creation and growth has never been more urgent, we make starting and running a venture ever more expensive and complex.

The only bright spots seem to be the reduction in corporation tax and the u-turn on the rise to National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed.

Everywhere else we look, costs are rising. Companies of all sizes will now see the introduction of the Apprenticeship levy, Immigration Skills Charge, a new National Living Wage and pensions auto-enrolment.

Added to that you have a significant rise in input costs caused by the weaker pound.

It’s a simple equation. When the costs of doing business rise something has got to give.  Either firms will pass on those extra costs for customers, or they will be reluctant to hire staff. Hardly a great recipe for growing an economy.

I have, for a long time, urged for a review of the business rates system. It is fundamentally flawed and imposing pressure on businesses every day.  

But any hope of a review is some way off, and those small firms are hurting now.

The Government’s Making Tax Digital initiative, will require almost all companies to file tax returns online four times a year – which means another investment of both time and finances for business owners.

Is it any wonder this month has been designated Stress Awareness Month!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We see every day among our chamber members and in our fledgling Spark-Up entrepreneurs, how the spirit of enterprise is alive and well in our city region.

In sectors such as a visitor economy and creative & digital we are continuing to see growth, innovation and collaboration. Our last Quarterly Economic Survey shows business confidence in the city region is at an all time high. 

Now is the time to support businesses to grow and scale. Give entrepreneurs the right help and encouragement and in return they will turbo-charge our economy and make us all more prosperous.

Jenny Stewart

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 31st, Mar

Getting specifics out of a politician, particularly during an election campaign, can be tricky and hustings events can quickly descend into soundbite bingo.

This week Liverpool & Sefton Chambers, in partnership with think tank Centre for Cities, hosted just such an event as part of the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayoral election campaign.

The five candidates, in alphabetical order - Tony Caldeira (Conservative), Carl Cashman (Lib Dem), Tom Crone (Green Party), Tabitha Morton (Women’s Equality), and Steve Rotheram (Labour) - all took part in a lively discussion at the chamber here in the city centre.

Genuine passion

There’s an old saying that politicians ‘campaign in poetry and govern in prose’ and, as you would expect, there was no shortage of abstract concepts and snappy soundbites.

However, to give credit to the candidates, there was plenty of meat in there, too. I think they all spoke from the heart and all are standing with a genuine commitment to public service. I saw no political careerists on the panel.

I spoke at the beginning of the session and I talked about how this election means we have the makings of a revolution here in the Liverpool city region.

Connectivity is key

And I was heartened to see that the discussion was at its liveliest when the panel addressed what I think is one of the single most important issues for our city region - connectivity.

We want inward investment, we want a well-educated, highly-skilled workforce doing high-value, good paying jobs, we want our port to be a world leader in global shipping once again.

But we cannot achieve those things if people cannot get from one part of our region to another quickly and with the minimum of fuss or we cannot move goods from the port swiftly to other parts of the country.

Carl Cashman told how a friend travelled from Southport to Prescot to help him with his campaign.

“It took him longer to make that journey than it would have done for him to fly from Liverpool to Spain,” he said.

Yes, it really can be that bad.

Tony Caldeira talked about his efforts in lobbying Government to put the infrastructure in place to allow both HS2 and HS3, or Northern Powerhouse Rail, to go ahead.

Steve Rotheram painted a stark picture of how for every £1 spent on rail infrastructure in the North, London and the South East receives £6.

“London has Crossrail and what we need is Crossrail for the North,” he added.

Tom Crone said the money spent on HS2 and HS3 would be better utilised on making lots of smaller improvements to the local transport network.

And Tabitha Morton pointed out, quite correctly, that it was more often women performing the lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs in our region who were more dependent on public transport than any other group.

This fed into her wider point that too many of the big decisions were being made by “groups of white men behind closed doors”.

A clear message

There is a good deal of confusion among the business community and the wider city region population about what the City Region Mayor will be and how he or she will work with the existing local authority leaders.

Our event went some way to offering clarity on this. The candidates need to work harder between now and election day in May to outline to people how the role will directly affect their lives.

This, as one of the candidates pointed out, could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our region. We must make the most of it.

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Posted by Jenny Stewart

Chief Executive of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce

Fri 24th, Mar

This week, I went on record on behalf of Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce to urge the RMT Union to withdraw its intention to strike on Grand National day.

I understand some of the very real concerns raised about the proposed introduction of driver-only operated trains on Merseyrail. I also fully respect the right of workers to take action on issues about which they feel strongly.

But, on the biggest day of the year for Liverpool's visitor economy when we have a global TV audience of 600m people, the timing could not be worse.

Clearly there are fundamental and entrenched positions on both sides of this dispute – but it seems to me that those could be best resolved through sensible and considered negotiation.

Using the biggest day of Liverpool’s sporting and social calendar as a negotiating tactic is disappointing, to say the least.

The Grand National offers a massive annual boost to hundreds of businesses across the entire region.

This action by the RMT will not only inconvenience residents and visitors but sends totally the wrong message at a time when we are working hard to market ourselves in an international arena.

And this does open up a wider discussion around Liverpool's global identity.

We present Liverpool as a forward-thinking city, a place on the up, a location that understands and utilises technology and digital advancements to do business better - somewhere that is prime for inward investment.

But in fact, in terms of productivity, there is a lot of work to be done. The UK lags behind Germany by 35% and output in the North West is further behind again.

The North-South divide shows no sign of shrinking, there are undeniable challenges around improving productivity in the North – and it is time business leaders rose to those challenges.

The rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’ – freelancers, short-term workers and independent contractors lured by the idea of more flexible working – is threatening the retention of talent within our workplaces. But what can we do about it?

Simple measures can make a huge difference.

Let’s look at upskilling, life-long learning, financial incentivisation. Lets alter our working practices, lose the colloquial minsdet and accept change. Lets scale-up, create jobs and win clients.

Let’s really think of the bigger picture and start looking out instead of in. Only then can we really, really begin to compete.

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