Manchester for business, Liverpool for culture? Not anymore
As the English National Opera heads to Manchester, have local leaders been complacent or unlucky?
Good morning readers and welcome to our Thursday edition.
For months we’ve been wondering whether the English National Opera might choose Liverpool as its new home after it was forced to make plans to leave London (with an Arts Council-branded gun pointing at its head). The city was shortlisted in the final three possible destinations for the opera company, and earlier this year we suggested this could be a huge opportunity for the city to build on the enthusiasm of Eurovision and build a new economy around culture.
And then, with crushing inevitability, we learned this week that Greater Manchester had been chosen by the ENO. In today’s story, Jack asks what went wrong and where the decision leaves us.
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Your Post briefing
The government has decided not to introduce a Hillsborough Law, six years since a report recommended its creation. The law — which would have brought in a legal “duty of candour” to prevent police cover ups like that of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 — was first suggested by Reverend James Jones in 2017, who chaired the Hillsborough independent panel. Instead, the government said it would sign a charter, promising no family will suffer the same injustices as those in Hillsborough. Reacting to the news, metro mayor Steve Rotheram said the “belated” government response is “a move in the right direction, it does not clear the threshold that Hillsborough Law campaigners have been asking for”.
Liverpool Council will need to pay nearly two thousand pounds to the family of a girl with special needs after they failed to find her a suitable school. Her mother raised a formal complaint back in 2022 after her daughter was left without a school to go to for eight months — despite complaining to the council on two separate occasions. An investigation by the local government and social care Ombudsman said the council had caused a “personal injustice” to the pupil, while a council spokesperson said they “acknowledge that our handling of the concerns raised fell short”.
And it’s been another interesting week in the battle over Birkenhead Market. Since 2021, the market has been making headlines over a proposal to move it from the Range Precinct to the former Home of Fraser on Grange Road. The relocation would have seen a £28 million investment in the market, and was advertised as a key part of the council’s vision for Birkenhead’s regeneration. However, no planning permission for the move was ever filed and it was revealed this year that the council was considering moving it to a former Argos site instead. The council repeatedly said no decision had been made on the market’s location, but emails leaked to the Echo over the weekend reveal Wirral Council’s regeneration chief told staff to halt plans to move to Grange Road. Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley said he was “deeply concerned” by the leaked emails, adding: “If true, it would mean years of work up in smoke.”
Liverpool didn’t “bid” to get the ENO. But did we try hard enough?
By Jack Walton
With the buzz of Eurovision still ringing around the city, some in Liverpool sensed an opportunity. The song contest had beamed us around the world and buttressed the claim that Liverpool could fashion a niche as the North’s hub for culture and the arts. We had a bit of momentum. So what was next?
Opera, that’s what. Liverpool had made it to the final three cities being considered for the English National Opera’s controversial relocation – a move that was happening with a gun to the organisation's head after the Arts Council threatened to pull funding unless it shifted out of London. The ENO – which is considered the second most prestigious opera company – might not have been as sexy and famous as Eurovisoin, but in the long run, this was a much bigger prize. A serious, high-profile cultural institution that would provide employment and visitors – not to mention tens of millions of pounds of public money – to the city for decades to come.
But this week we learned that public money and employment will be benefiting Greater Manchester. “Following a rigorous assessment process to decide on this new city base, ENO was excited by the close strategic alignment of Greater Manchester’s values and vision with its own,” the ENO’s statement said. The city region’s mayor was ecstatic. “Greater Manchester’s world-renowned history of radical art, activism, and affecting change, and the cultural renaissance taking place across our towns and cities, makes it the ideal home for the ENO,” said Andy Burnham.
Be in no doubt, this was a colossal miss for Liverpool’s leaders. Harry Doyle, the council’s lead on culture, said it was “disappointing” but that there had been no formal bid from the city, “more of an information and fact finding exercise”. Technically this is true, but in reality all of the cities shortlisted were pitching to get the ENO.
A few months ago, a very senior Liverpool leader told The Post they were pursuing a strategy of pitching “opera across the region,” with ENO partnering with various local organisations, rather than being set in one venue. This may have been partly due to the lack of one suitable venue, but it also tells us a specific strategy — a bid you might say — had been developed.