Will Liverpool voters get a referendum on the mayoralty?
Reports that Labour might be changing its position, plus the rest of our weekly briefing
Dear readers — in today’s briefing we look at an interesting story about the Liverpool mayoralty, a lovely listed cottage in Aintree Village as our home of the week, and some great recommended reads.
Our weekend read was Larry Neild’s in-depth feature about how proposals for a giant warehouse on the edge of St Helens are rekindling fears of urban sprawl in Bold Village. Thanks for your emails and tweets about that piece, and welcome to our new members who joined after reading it.
Last week we published a data story about the primary schools in Birkenhead where kids will struggle to go to university and a profile of the Liverpool Covid-19 scientist Janet Hemingway. You can read an extract of that piece below.
🌤 This week’s weather
We are working on a story about domestic abuse across the city region. If you work in this area or would like to talk to us about it, please get in touch by hitting reply to this newsletter.
We are doing more reporting on Sefton politics. If you work for the council or know more about it, please email email@example.com.
We are writing about Prospect House in Hoylake, which opened its doors to unwed mothers and babies in the 1950s and ‘60s. If you know more about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The big story: Will Liverpool voters get a referendum on the mayoralty?
Top line: Labour figures are reportedly thinking of reneging on the promise to give Liverpool’s residents a referendum on whether to keep or ditch the Mayor of Liverpool position. The news was broken by the well-connected former Granada journalist Matt O’Donoghue last week.
The context: Three days after her appointment as mayor in May last year, Joanne Anderson promised to leave the decision up to the people of Liverpool. Here’s what she told BBC North West:
I’m a woman of promises, and I think in terms of, the Labour group have already made the decision to hold the referendum in 2023, and I’ll go ahead with that as planned.
The latest: The alternative to a referendum is some kind of cheaper option — a consultation of some sort. Labour councillors were door-to-door this weekend offering residents the choice to have their say at a ballot box or offer their opinion online on whether to scrap the post.
A referendum is estimated to cost £450,000, which some councillors think is an inappropriate use of public money given the deep cuts to local government budgets. Anderson may back a £120,000 consultation instead. One source told O’Donoghue: “She shouldn’t have promised to fix the car without anyone looking under the hood first.”
A spokesperson for the council didn’t knock down the story when we contacted them, and told us:
Residents will get their chance to have a say on the future governance of the council later this year, and more detail will be announced in due course.
Taking a step back, the mayoralty looked like it would become a casualty of the Max Caller report and the controversy over Joe Anderson’s leadership of the city. Whereas many cities — like Manchester and Leeds — have regular council leaders, Liverpool has had an elected city mayor since 2012.
Before the scandal, regeneration expert Michael Parkinson from the University of Liverpool assessed the position, finding that the mayor was able to be “more visible, more accountable, more powerful, and more effective than a council leader”.
But Parkinson noted: “One of the general concerns about elected Mayors is whether they are too powerful and whether there is enough challenge in the system to them.”
Coming up: Read our members-only interview with Michael Parkinson, in which we ask him about the mayoralty, the political scandal in Liverpool, and whether the uncertainty in the city is putting investors off.
Other local news in brief
A number of Liverpool Labour councillors had parking tickets rescinded by a former council officer. A total of 18 parking tickets were wrongly cancelled. The city’s Lib Dem leader Richard Kemp said he became aware of the situation last year and put in a complaint to the council’s standards board. Kemp told the Echo: “Because of the way that I received the information I could not go public on it. I did, however, immediately put in a complaint through our standards procedures.” Read more.
Residents at new flats overlooking the Mersey have seen the value of their properties drop to as little as 1p after a fire safety inspection in 2019 found the buildings contained dangerous HPL cladding and needed removing. Because the government Building Safety Fund only covered buildings higher than 18m, and the Decks in Runcorn were below this threshold, residents were told to foot the cost, which would have come at roughly £70,000. Read more.
The creative arts collective Smithdown Social Arts Hub opened in the old post office on Smithdown Road last week. They attracted funding from the local community and the Culture Recovery Fund to regenerate the building. The new arts hub will host exhibitions, film workshops and a community workspace with the aim to be self-funded. Read more.
At least 770 school pupils in the Wirral were absent on just one day before the Christmas break, according to figures from the Department of Education. 641 were off because of coronavirus, 64 were absent due to attendance restrictions in their school and 62 were isolating for other reasons. A chief exec from the Education Policy Institute said: “Our research has shown an association between pupil absence and higher learning losses, so the high rate of pupils out of school continues to be a concern.” Read more.
📉 Covid-19 update
Cases | The case rate for the Liverpool City Region is 1,109, down 55.4% from the previous week, compared to England’s which is 1,030.3, down 43.2%. Cases are highest in Halton, at 1,613, and lowest in Liverpool, at 1,038.5. See the graphic below.
Hospitalisations | The hospital data, updated 10th January, shows there were 615 patients in hospital with Covid-19 the previous week — that number includes patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 but may be in hospital for something else. The number of Covid-19 patients on mechanical ventilation remained low, at 26.
Vaccinations | As of 10th January, 72% of eligible people in the Liverpool City Region had two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. 51.6% of people had three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. The Wirral and Sefton gave out the most booster shots, around 60%, and booster uptake was slowest in Liverpool and Knowsley, about 40%.
Home of the week
This beautiful Grade II listed cottage in Aintree Village has wooden parquet floors, French doors leading to the garden, and a cast iron fireplace. It’s on the market for £210,000.
Our favourite reads
BBC Future wrote a great feature about accents, and how they can be subject to subtle forms of prejudice. In a 2013 poll, received pronunciation and Devon accents were found to be the most trustworthy, and Liverpudlian accents were deemed the least trustworthy. TV plays a big role in this, the article says. “Upmarket grocer Marks & Spencer frequently has a soothing, RP voice-over on its adverts, for example, while the more budget brand Iceland often featured former popstar Kerry Katona, who grew up in Warrington, a town between Manchester and Liverpool — until she was kicked off their adverts because of an alleged drug problem.”
It’s worth revisiting this Guardian obituary to the great Liverpool writer Beryl Bainbridge. Janet Watts writes that “her discipline as a writer was intense”, and her novels, filled with dark dynamics and obsessions with death, often emerged from writing through the night, smoking a lot and eating very little. “At 13, she fell in love. She met Harry Franz, a German prisoner of war waiting to be repatriated, near the shore at Formby. The pair went on meeting ‘night after night’, hidden in the bushes; her father, hearing her sing Lili Marleen in German, was so impressed that he sent her to study the language in Liverpool.”
And there’s an amazing story on the longform website Narratively about the immigrants who invented pilates in a prisoner of war camp in Knockaloe, the Isle of Man, under the close watch of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. “With the others, Internee #14001 J. Pilatus — his index card was incorrect; his real name was Joseph Pilates — was led to Camp 4, issued a bunk bed, and assigned a chore. For most of his fellow internees, this marked the start of a prison sentence, years of ‘nothing to do, nothing at all.’ But for Pilates, confinement paradoxically offered a kind of liberation.”
‘She’s like a great chess player, she’s got all the moves made’
Last week we published a members-only story about Janet Hemingway, the Liverpool scientist who led the fight against the pandemic. “We’re going to have to live with Covid forever,” she told Robin Brown. Read an extract of the piece below.
Something people who have worked with Hemingway pinpoint in her character is her grasp of detail and an ability not just to communicate clearly, but get others invested in what she has to say. Doctor Jon Hague, speaking in his role as Chair of the Innovation Board for the Liverpool City Region (Hague is also a Vice President at Unilever), told me about working with Hemingway. “She’s tough, right? She's absolutely a tour de force. When she does need to stand firm and draw the line and say, no, she’ll fight tooth and nail. She digs in when she needs to and she gets a lot of respect for that.”
He says Hemingway is a rare beast in science. “She’s one of these people who is extremely good at navigating the politics of universities and institutions and governments,” he says. “But he's also an absolutely brilliant scientist. People in science tend to be one or the other; Janet brings both of them together.”
Hague has worked with Hemingway on bringing iiCon to fruition and has experienced her “brutal efficiency”. “She’s really kind to people but like any good operator she'll get it all lined up before the meetings. She’s like a great chess player, she’s got all the moves made. And it's all sorted out when you go into the meeting: checkmate!”
It’s perhaps Hemingway’s steeliness that has seen her referred to as “that damn woman” by opponents — a reminder of the gender imbalance in the higher echelons of science. iiCon’s team may be all-female (“serendipitously”, says Hemingway), but the fact is while more women than men enter science, it drops off alarmingly beyond postdoctoral level. “If you look at the professorial level, I think we're 10% female and 90% male,” she says.
To read the full piece, sign up as a member now.
Photo of the week
The sunny weather got us thinking about summer days in Liverpool. Here’s a gorgeous shot of New Brighton last June, by local photographer Hannah Cassidy.
Book of the week
We enjoyed Ten Years on the Parish, an autobiography by George Garrett, the founder of the Unity Theatre, who wrote a series of documentary reports about poverty and social struggle in the 1920s and ‘30s. His radical ideas and new realist approach impressed George Orwell, who met him while researching the Road to Wigan Pier. Here’s what one of the book’s editors said:
Things like poverty, inequality, injustice, and writing about that from a perspective that was not just about a local idea of what was going on. It was about challenging bigger systems, about the nature of inequality, and the nature of capitalism which he sees as this thing that drives a lot of inequality, and, how that feeds through into wider systemic things which, for me as a geographer and a historian of empire, shows he was drawing out some of those connections about the inequality of imperialism at a time when racial inequality was rife within the city.
🎭 The acclaimed production of Les Misérables by Cameron Mackintosh returns at the Empire Theatre, with scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. It runs until 22nd January — get tickets here.
🛰 Bidston Observatory is hosting a spellcraft and poetry retreat this weekend for those interested in the history of magical practices. You can join for a day or spend the whole weekend there. The itinerary includes a hillside walk, a poetry workshop, communal cooking and a bonfire. Book here.
🎨 There are still some life drawing classes with spaces free, hosted by Liverpool Independent Art School in 92 Degrees Coffee Roastery in L1. It’s described as a relaxed and supportive environment with a brilliant model. Book a place here.
🌳 This looks like a great free event for families. Court Farm Woods in Halewood will be transformed with flame-lined paths, copper flowers that breathe fire and fiery woodland creatures to create a celestial experience. There will also be a performance from the harpist Rebecca Mills. You can see it on Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening this week — reserve a place here.
🦜 And we recommend this free guided bird walk on Sunday in Sefton Park, which is led by RSPB Liverpool Leader and bird expert Chris Tynan, who will give you tips for spotting birds you might not otherwise notice in the city. More info here.
Letters from readers
Deeply disappointed in Steve Rotherham et al who pushed this through (‘A giant warehouse rekindles old fears about urban sprawl’). This type of decision is so short sighted and lacks vision. Create jobs without decimation of open space. I bet this is happening all over the country, Polly
Very good article (‘What’s behind the opportunity ‘cold spot’ in Birkenhead?’), Nev