Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson on why culture is key to driving growth in cities

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson writes for New Start about today’s Cultural Cities report, which calls for ‘cultural city compact’ partnerships to be created, which it says will help drive growth in Britain’s largest cities.

Today’s Cultural Cities enquiry and the announcement of funding to explore the creation of a local ‘cultural compact’ is a breath of fresh air for someone like me who has seen and heard so many reports like this in the past. It is concise, has concrete requests of policy makers and is very timely.

In the decade since Liverpool was European Capital of Culture, the national conversation about the role and importance of culture has moved a long way in a short time. Back in 2008 Liverpool’s work with local people- known as the creative communities project – was a new approach to engagement through the arts. It was done at scale with proper investment and led by household name artists. It made engagement a central part of the process not an add on at the end.

Ten years ago this seemed revolutionary, as did Liverpool’s financial commitment to arts and culture which has seen us as a city council maintain our level of investment into the sector every year, even as we became the most heavily cut council in the entire country as the savage reality of austerity was laid bare last week in the centre for cities report. But that approach in the face of a national retreat away from arts funding has been validated – an upcoming report from Liverpool John Moores University – Impacts 18 – will be released in coming weeks and sets out empirical evidence behind Liverpool’s renaissance of the last decade.

Much of what we did then is now seen as common practice, and the story I have told about the power of cultural investment being the rocket fuel for regeneration seems to have stuck. Everyone from politicians to business seem to be professing the same thing. Culture is good. It’s good for the economy. For social cohesion. For health. For education. And for giving UK plc a competitive advantage.

So it is odd that investment and support of the sector at a national level has been so sporadic and unstrategic. There was an interesting debate over the weekend around the moral conundrum for the arts in accepting commercial revenue from certain business sectors. I’m sure I speak for the vast majority of cultural organisations here in Liverpool, in wishing that the opportunity was there for us to have the moral conundrum on our hands! Attracting investment from the private sector to support the cultural ecology of a city is incredibly tough and getting harder.

That is why today’s announcement is so encouraging. Put together by top industry names from across the sector, the report itself is clear and succinct in its ask of government for what the sector needs to grow structurally and also where we need financial support to better evolve our cultural offer independently. The recognition of the need for a Tourism Levy is a real step forward and something we can’t wait around on for much longer, and the commitment of funding to help bring together local and national organisations is helpful.

Crucially this is not about handouts. It is about recognising the vital role of culture and the arts in the social and economic health of the UK and asking for it to be treated as any other sector with this scale of impact would be. It is a compelling argument and I hope that today is the start of a journey towards a more ambitious yet secure culture sector in Liverpool and across the UK.


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