Trouble on the waters: why is the new Mersey ferry being built abroad?
Were these ferries locally sourced?
Dear readers —- we found ourselves leading the local conversation on social media again this weekend after publishing an alarming story about the Liverpool Echo’s apparent attempt to have a journalism student — and regular online critic — kicked off of her course. If you’ve not read it yet, hit the link.
It drew loads of interesting responses. University of Liverpool lecturer Dr David Jeffery said on Twitter: “I reckon Helen Wilkie & I would agree on literally nothing but this behaviour from the Echo is deeply worrying & she deserves everyone's full support.” In the comments, Mark asked: “If true, what is this if not an act of political repression?” And Wendy Bennett put things bluntly: “The Echo used to be a newspaper once. RIP.”
Thanks to everyone who read and shared that piece, and welcome to the 11 of you who signed up over the weekend. We’re now just shy of 650 members and have our sights trained on the golden 1000 mark, the point at which we can call ourselves a sustainable news source and maybe bring in a new staff member. If you want us to stick around and continue to hold the city’s institutions to account — including the Echo, the local councils and plenty of others — please do consider joining.
Today’s big story focuses on the new Mersey ferry. Avid scholars of the Post back-catalogue will remember our piece taking a trip on a ferry from May (paying subscribers can read it here) but there hasn’t been a new one built in 60 years, until now. However, what should’ve been an exciting announcement soon descended into acrimony when it came to light that most of the vessel will be built in Holland.
Last week we sent Jack to a Liverpudlian institution, Casa Italia, where queues still snake out of the front door even on drizzly midweek nights after nearly half a century in the business. The snag? An excessively cheesy pizza:
“It’s perfectly possible that had the pizza been sent away to a lab for bio-molecular analysis the scientific findings may have reported back traces of tomato. But I couldn’t say. I didn’t have my microscope handy. But what I can say is it seemed to follow the cheese-is-king formula of a Chicago-style pizza, or a Goodfella’s.”
Then on Friday we paid a visit to one of Merseyside’s most-maligned towns, Bootle, where ambitious CGI-rendered images have been released by a council promising wide-scale regeneration with all the trimmings. Will those dreams come to pass?
Editor’s appeal: As Liverpool’s Christmas lights will be switched on today, thus ushering in the festivities, why not get ahead of the Christmas shopping game and get your mum, your dad, your partner, the grandkids and the family dog Post subscriptions. Or just treat yourself. It costs just £1.25 a week — a perfect virtual stocking filler — no more pricey and no less nutritious than a bag of easy peelers. You know you want to.
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The big story: Were these ferries locally sourced?
Top line: The announcement of a new Mersey ferry, the first of its kind in 60 years, descended into argument last week when it was revealed the ship wouldn’t be built entirely on home soil at Birkenhead’s Cammell Laird.
The good news: The Mersey ferries are much-loved but many of the vessels are tiring and becoming tough to maintain. The new one will boost the current fleet and be more environmentally friendly. There’s also a full refurbishment in store for one of the older vessels.
The giant union Unite wasn't happy though. They released a statement saying that the majority of the work on the new ship would be subcontracted to the Dutch firm Damen. They said that if Cammell Laird had got the entire contract, it would have meant 120 jobs at the shipyard for up to 18 months and that a huge opportunity for local business had been missed.
The Post has heard that while significant elements of the project will occur in Birkenhead, such as the fitting of the interiors and controls, the hull will be built in the Netherlands. In many regards, the building of the hull is essentially the building of the ship. We reached out to Unite and they confirmed that this was also their understanding. In their own statement, Unite’s Sharon Graham said:
“This is a complete betrayal of a local and highly skilled workforce, it defies belief that a new Mersey ferry won’t be built on the river the ship will serve… This is a wholesale failure of the government's procurement policy which continues to undermine strategic British industries.”
The question here: Should we be blaming the combined authority led by Steve Rotheram? The government, for its procurement policies? Or the company choosing to subcontract this work — which is Cammell Laird?
Context: In recent years, Cammell Laird have built ferries for Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Wight. They even built “the UK’s most advanced polar research ship” — RRS Sir David Attenborough (the one the public wanted to call Boaty McBoatface) — which is designed for voyages to Antarctica and capable of reaching areas of the continent that had previously been off-limits to explorers and researchers. By comparison, the Mersey ferry shouldn’t offer much of a challenge, especially as the shipyard has built 15 of them since 1836.
Backlash: Before long, the fanfare and references to Gerry and the Pacemakers’ 1964 song Ferry Cross the Mersey had given way to anger and frustration. Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley said “this vessel must be built in its entirety in Birkenhead”. Amid the backlash Rotheram tried to explain the role of the Dutch subcontractor on Twitter:
“There's been some confusion about the procurement of our new ferry. We're expecting to award the contract to Cammell Laird — but only they can decide how to subcontract the work. We can't dictate how businesses proceed with contracts we award — it would break procurement law.”
Bottom line: Rotheram’s case is that the decision is out of his hands and that if Cammell Laird wishes to utilise a Dutch subcontractor, even for the vast majority of the work, then that’s their prerogative. Pressed by the BBC, David McGinley, the shipbuilder's chief executive, “said he could not comment on an ongoing procurement process”. In any case, a sense of betrayal will cast a shadow over what should have been a moment of celebration.
Your Post briefing
Debbie Bracey, a 62-year-old patient at the new Royal Liverpool Hospital, told BBC Radio Merseyside about her “horrendous” ordeal waiting 29 hours to be admitted to A&E. Bracey had gone to A&E with breathing issues, but was moved from a hospital bed into the corridor after being told another patient needed it. She eventually blacked out in the corridor after allegedly being refused oxygen due to regulations. The hospital finally arrived last month after years of delays, largely thanks to the collapse of building contractor Carillion, with much praise for the significant upgrades on the weary older building. However, one source at the hospital contacted The Post expressing concern that the new hospital has fewer beds than its predecessor (every bed is within its own room with an en suite). Bracey’s ordeal appears to be showing the downside to the strategy. The hospital’s trust said that they were under “significant pressures”.
Do you work at the new Royal Liverpool Hospital and have more information to share? Email email@example.com.
Bad blood: We’ve brought regular updates from Ian Byrne’s fight against deselection in West Derby in recent weeks and now — after complaining of “multiple rule breaches in the process last week — Byrne is allegeding “intimidation” from his opponents. At an event attended by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, where his team ran into rival for the seat Anthony Lavelle, Byrne claimed “appalling behaviour” from those associated with Lavelle. He said that, in light of having received a death threat in August, he had taken the decision to block “anyone involved” on Twitter and would be informing the police and council. One of those blocked appears to be Liverpool’s deputy mayor Harry Doyle.
It didn’t end there. Doyle then hit back with a statement of his own, saying he was “appalled” at Byrne’s comments and explained that while Byrne and Lavelle had unwittingly picked adjacent locations for campaign events, the interactions between the two groups had been friendly, with Lavelle chatting to Burnham and Rotheram and shaking a few hands. Doyle insisted no intimidation had occurred and that he was “completely baffled”. He said that if Byrne wins the selection he would still support him, but demanded an apology.
Baltic Creative has its first chief executive: Lynne Haime. Haime comes from property consultants Matthews & Goodman having previously worked at well-known firms like Urban Splash and Salford’s Media City. Batic Creative, who have been credited in part with the revival of the Baltic, helping to revive many disused buildings, have never previously employed a CEO, but Haime aims to drive a new phase of growth and expand the company’s 118,000 sq ft Baltic Triangle portfolio. Get the full details from Place North West.
Home of the week
Live out your own pastoral idyll for £240,000 in a cosy white Formby cottage. The cottage has been modernised and redecorated by the current owners with a fitted kitchen, a log burner and a Worcester Combi Boiler. Exciting! Take a look through the keyhole here.
🌃 Where better for a 30 foot glass pyramid than the streets of L4? Made of Stars — a 40 minute immersive art show telling the stories of 14 refugees — can be found in its glass enclosure at the Liverpool Lighthouse and is hosted by Turnbull Theatre. It’s “woven together from the depths of outer space to a mysterious radio tower in Southern America”. And it’s free!
🎨 A little out of town, but a mother/daughter duo from Wallasey who studied fine art together have a joint display at the University of Chester’s gallery at the Forum shopping centre. Daughter Phoebe Weaver finds interest in the “everyday” and draws from German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, while mother Sally Weaver is more oriented towards the natural world.
👩🔬 What was your favourite toxic science story of the past two decades? Climategate — when ten years of emails used to claim that climate change was a hoax were stolen? The shaming of Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt? Or the media frenzy over the threat of “Frankenstein food”? Fiona Fox, author of Beyond the Hype: The Inside Story of Science's Biggest Media Controversies, will be talking about them all at the Liverpool Salon. £10 for tickets.
🇮🇹 Italian cinema lovers can gather at Invisible Wind Factory Kitchen on Saturday and argue out your Michelangelo Antonionis against your Federico Fellinis. The event is partly social, but there’s also a showing of Il Positano, the 1994 comedy-drama starring Massimo Troisi, where a humble postman falls in love with poetry and woos a local beauty. General admission is £10.
Open newsroom: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
This week we’d like to speak to staff at the City of Liverpool college in relation to an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions.
And we’re still working on a profile of former Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. If you have views to contribute to that piece then we’d love to hear them.
Our favourite reads
A deeply concerning long-read about Mark Garner, the founder of Confidentials, the media company that owns popular food review site Liverpool Confidential. The piece, written by Jack Dulhanty for our Mancunian sister publication The Mill, speaks to numerous sources about Garner’s past behaviour, and uncovers multiple allegations of racism and attempting to bully restaurants into participating in his voucher promotions. In one scene, a source says: “There was this tiny Korean lady — crying — with this six-foot fat man shouting in her face”. Whilst it ostensibly focuses on Garner’s controversies down the M62, it's also relevant to Liverpool given the importance of Confidentials in promoting restaurants here too.
Liverpool has been UNESCO-less for more than a year now, and while we don’t wish to dig up old dirt from a messy breakup, this David Lloyd piece on SevenStreets is well worth revisiting. Taking a two mile walk from Waterloo Quay to Brunswick Dock in the wake of the council’s “belligerent #nolabels” campaign in response to the docks losing world heritage status, Lloyd finds himself unimpressed by the development work of Peel L&P and successive councils: “square boxes, with their faux-brick cladding, flung around like Tetris blocks looking for a connection”. It’s a brutal appraisal of gung-ho development minus checks and balances, ending at “the litter-strewn environs of the Grosvenor Casino”. And though UNESCO are long departed, the debate about the docks goes on and on and on.
One for the Strictly fans. Shirley Ballas — the dancing show’s head judge — might be best associated with the glitzy mirrorballs and velour jackets of the ballroom world, but she hails from humbler climes. Speaking to The Guardian, Ballas describes her life growing up on the Leasowe housing estate in Wirral, and how most people living in the area would be out of money by Wednesday after being paid on Friday. “People would borrow a bowl of sugar. Everybody joined together to help whoever needed it. There was a strong sense of community,” she says.
Photo of the week
There’s something slightly creepy about this colourless shot of stand-up paddle-boarders and kayakers at Queen’s dock, like mythological ferrymen leading you across a sea of black tar. Or something like that. Photo by Eric Lalmand/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Image.
Letters from readers
The fact that Maria Breslin could be that arsed about what happens to a would-be writer on her course shows how timid and fretful this once mighty title has become. And how it is led by cowards. And who wants journalists like that? ‘Did the Liverpool Echo try to get a vocal critic kicked off of her journalism course?’, David
There is a brilliant passage in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (published in 1904!) that describes the Italian Restaurant as a 'peculiar British institution' which serves 'denationalised dishes' of 'fraudulent cookery' to patrons who go there to have exactly that experience. The Casa Italia (and a couple of others) in the city centre keep this tradition alive, despite all the TV cooks etc trying to make us eat authentic Italian Cuisine, and long may they continue! ‘Pizza with a queue’, Simon Jones