Why cruises are key to Merseyside’s future

For years the waters of the River Mersey have supplied a great wealth of attraction and a rich maritime past. Now with the surge in tourists boarding cruise ships for their holiday there has been a boost in the Merseyside tourism sector. With a substantial increase in the number of ships visiting the city, docking close to the famous Liver Building, the future is certainly all about cruising.

2014 will see at least fifty visits by cruise ships to Liverpool, without counting visits from the Royal Navy vessels. Officially opened in 2007, the Liverpool Cruise Terminal cost £19 million to build. It previously and still does allow cruise ships to call at the city, offering passengers the security and safety of visiting a world class destination. The new build also improved services for customers of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Ferry. In 2012, after a bizarre decision to make Liverpool City Council repay previous funding, a decision was reached that would see cruise ships able to begin and end their journeys in the city, for the first time in over 40 years. Liverpool is now a world class cruising destination.

The first commercial transatlantic trade can be traced as far back as 1648 and today Liverpool’s shipping industry remains one of commercial ventures albeit pushed heavily through the tourism sector. This year is expected to see an estimated 70,000 visitors to Liverpool on cruise ships alone. That’s without any guesses toward the number of people from across the North West who will head to the city to catch a glimpse of the liners, including the German six-star rated MS Europa 2 and Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess. Thousands of pounds will be spent by tourists in the city, in restaurants, museums and shops, with Mayor Joe Anderson saying that each vessel will be worth up to £1 million to the local economy. This will continue to create and sustain jobs in the Merseyside tourism sector. The sector which is vital for Liverpool’s economic future.

An impressive view. Source: ITV

An impressive view. Source: ITV

Cruise passengers from Northern Britain have spent years travelling to the ‘cruise hub’ in Southampton and now Liverpool could offer an unparalleled northern hub for cruise liners. There has been some upset from the southern cruise city however. Experts, based in Southampton, have said that despite Liverpool’s rise in the cruise liner industry Southampton will not be affected. The so called ‘cruise wars’ between the two ports has been raging for many years. Last year, an announcement from Merseyside confirmed a dredging process would start to take place, at the tune of £35million of government funding, to allow larger container and passenger ships near the Seaforth estuary. At the same time, Southampton confirmed a privately funded project in to the regeneration of their docks, this time to the sound of £70 million. Southampton’s council has stated that its history will ensure the future of the docks remains alive. But Liverpool’s richer maritime history could see the city head to the top of the UK’s top cruise destination.

Ships still dominate the River Mersey and it is an industry which is vital to the growth and success of Merseyside’s economy. From the ferry that sails passengers between the Pier Head and Wirral to the large container ships that dock at the Port of Liverpool, the river is more than the bloodline for Liverpool. Cammell Laird, dominating the Wirral side of the Mersey continues to thrive as the largest and most successful ship repair and conversion specialist in the UK. Today, ship building at the Birkenhead site continues to mould the UK economy as well as keeping local people employed and the ship building industry alive.

Elsewhere, Liverpool is often regarded as the spiritual home of Cunard; the 175th anniversary of the historic cruise line will be celebrated in 2015 in front of the three graces at the Pier Head. The historic ‘unsinkable’ Titanic was registered in Liverpool and so the city name was carried on her stern; The Lusitania which entered service in Liverpool had a similar strong link to the city people. Both are two of the worst shipping disasters in maritime history. Whilst both of these ships history is marked in the city and the North West maritime past, it is hoped the disasters are not an indication for the future of shipping in the area.

Speak to any overseas tourists and one of the top destinations that is spoken is Liverpool. For it’s culture and history, the city has gained international recognition. See how many tourists openly praise the city on their arrival and it is very easy to see that visitors ‘love Liverpool’. Currently it is smaller ships that are beginning their cruise journeys in Liverpool, but it is hoped that the continuing support from the city council and visits from Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, Mary and Victoria in 2015, will not only pinpoint Liverpool as the ultimate cruising city but also create maritime history.

The docks of Liverpool have paved the way for economic security in Liverpool for generations. From when the trade of commodities such as sugar were stored in the Albert Dock warehouses right through the hosting of the ‘Tall Ships’ and the round the world ‘Clipper Race’, the waters have always been held in great respect by the people of Merseyside. Today, although Liverpool may not be the international trading port it once was, the future is now destined for tourism. Vehicle ferries across the Irish Sea have terminated in Liverpool for years, cruises which have been visiting seem to be getting bigger and bigger, and the next step is ensuring larger liners not only visit the city but ‘turnaround’ from there too.

There is no destination like Liverpool. History and 21st century culture are a mix within a stones throw from the new cruise terminal. The diversity of the great city, its people, architecture and culture alike, are a huge draw for tourists and it certainly makes sense for it to be the ultimate cruise stop on the global map. The city’s rich maritime history which is still celebrated and commemorated to this day means the only way forward for Liverpool is cruising on the Mersey.

For more details on the Cruise Terminal and visits by ships to Merseyside visit the official website: http://www.cruise-liverpool.com/

Advertisements

Immigrants needed for UK

ukborder_0Alongside the UK role in Europe, MP’s affairs and the need for jobs, immigration is high on the list of voters’ agendas in the run up to the next general election. Whilst immigration does have connotations of negativity, grouping all immigrants under one umbrella is simply unrealistic and daringly stereotypical.

The recent news that the UK Border Agency has a 37 year backlog of 500,000 immigration cases to deal with certainly strikes deep into the wounds of those with the belief that all immigrants are bad news. But that simply isn’t the truth. Around the UK there are hundreds of immigrant families who are determined to work and make a success, providing money for their families, paying their taxes, and ensuring their children have a decent education. Furthermore, as the UK’s ageing population grows bigger, the need for immigrants is also vital.

The Office for Budget Responsibility reported that Britain needs 140,000 immigrants per year – equivalent to 6million – to increase the number of people in work and improve public finances. As Britain’s population grows older, the strain on the NHS will inevitably become too much. In order to sustain an already struggling healthcare system, there will need to be tax increases or further public spending cuts totalling £19billion. Granted, some may suggest that the increases in spending for the system is because more immigrants are populating the country. Town populations have risen to bursting points and additional strain on the education, transport and health systems support a developing strain on British services. However, enormous savings can be made from the immigrants who choose to live in the UK.

The Prime Minister admitted that “immigration is a constant drain on public services” however commended those who are willing to “work hard”. Whilst it may seem that Mr Cameron is siding with the public on the immigration issue, it is clear that although he promises to reduce immigration numbers to “tens of thousands” (despite the OBR figures) he and fellow ministers recognise that those who come for improved lives should be welcomed with open arms. And so they should be. There is no more positive representation of Britain than a country that others see as having an excellent education system, healthcare system, democracy and so forth.

There are, however, groups of immigrants who are a so-called “burden” to society. Stereotypes who migrate from Eastern European countries and elsewhere have been described by some writings as “scrounging” off the tax system. The Spectator outlines that official figures show that less than 14,000 Polish immigrants are claiming unemployment benefit. It is clear. Some immigrants do intend on using the UK benefit system to support families in their native countries, but the mass majority do not wait on the state. Furthermore, an interesting point made by The Spectator ‘s Alex Massie is the news that there has been a rising number of French citizens in London. Evidently, taxes being lower, world class education system and flexible labour markets clearly lead a “superior” option of life than in France. If we can welcome 300,000 French citizens then we can welcome citizens of all nationalities.

A recent documentary, fronted by Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer, delved deep into unemployment in the UK showing how some British citizens are reluctant to work for low pay and in jobs that they perhaps do not wish to complete. Those who have settled in Britain from other countries, including Poland and Romania, are enthusiastic and willing to work for low pay (high in comparison to their own residence), and with the government not needing to spend on offering training, it is a major cost-saving exercise.

In whichever news programme you watch or newspaper you read there will always be contrasting views on immigration on what they bring. Whilst The Daily Express and other tabloids provide readings to audiences with the view that everything to do with immigration and that immigrants are the lowest of the low. The truth is, however, immigration is needed to develop UK culture and boost the economy. For instance the new High Speed rail link will inevitably employ many many immigrants as well as home citizens. Why? Years of construction and building a railway line will be difficult, strenuous and involve long and unsocial hours. Workers from other countries will do near enough anything for any money.

Official figures are likely to be doctored to provide numerous readings, yet to me immigration shows how the United Kingdom is a country that welcomes people of all nationalities. Perhaps a tangent, but consider Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting education and women’s rights. When she was severely injured it was not Pakistan which treated her. The NHS, described as the best healthcare system in the world, welcomed Malala with open arms for intensive treatment and recovery. A story that inspired all who read about it showed how the UK can positively welcome people of other countries to share in the first-rate services the nation offers. Malala has gone on to inspire the globe at the United Nations to promote the need for education in the countries such as Pakistan. All because of the offerings to her from the UK.

So whilst not everybody will agree with the need for immigration and views do run high on the issue. But if the country wants to grow and recover from the deficit then I’m afraid it’s those who are willing to work longer hours for little pay. For the same reasons British citizens immigrate around the globe, many come to Great Britain for a new life. A clear reflection on the opportunities and amenities that are accessible.

Is Warrington really that “crap” ?

Think of a “crap” town. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty you can think of. Whether it’s a hometown you’re bored of, an area where you’ve had a bad night out or a location with a poor reputation, all of these add to the passionate argument of bad towns. Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK, edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran, is a rather humorous approach to towns which are as the definition suggests, “crap”. Now a second edition is underway and amongst the top one hundred worst towns is Warrington. I live there. So is there any real evidence to suggest that the town is worthy of the crap town title?

Before we go any further, we really have to consider the meaning of “crap”. A trusty visit to Etymology Online reveals what the majority know already: “act of defecation” is the 1898 meaning. More widely, The Oxford English Dictionary refers the term as being “something of extremely poor quality.” Therefore, for the purpose of this post, we shall refer to Warrington as supposedly being something of poor quality and not an act of defecation. So, the definition is clear. Now what is exactly “crap” about Warrington?

A comprehensive government survey ranked the town bottom when considering quality of life. Taken into consideration included high unemployment rates, relatively low life expectancy and a failure to safeguard children properly. Poor aspirations also contributed to the results. A sad consequence considering the investment into local training and education for young people and adults alike. In response to the survey, Warrington Borough Council branded it a “shambles” suggesting there was no reality between what the inspectors found and the feelings of residents.

Every town will have its poorer sides. Warrington has hit the headlines over its nightlife. Violence on the streets and cheap prices of alcohol have tarnished the once fairly positive reputation. Staying with the town centre and the apparent high unemployment rate is a direct cause of the recession and down turn. The once thriving Bridge Street area, today, stands only as a gateway of closed shops. Warrington Market, advertised as “Award Winning”, feels more like a deflated arena of stalls compared to the former glory of original market. The new build, according to residents and stall owners, drove regular customers away; today, the hustle of the market is long gone. In fact the hustle of almost all of the previous thriving town centre shopping areas has disappeared.

But it’s not all bad. Where some areas of the town centre struggle others boast with success. The most recent redevelopment of Warrington town centre was the complete overhaul of the tired 1980’s feel of the shopping mall. Refurbished and modernised, the arcade now boasts some of the best high street retailers in a modern and attractive environment. A new bus station, glass fronted and airy, was constructed nearly seven years ago, replacing the dingy environment of the former gateway. Infact, whilst the survey of life quality may have placed Warrington at the bottom, there was praise for transport links.

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

Inside the revamped Warrington Golden Square

The survey stated that the public transport system demonstrated “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.” It’s a true story. Despite some negativity towards the local bus company, drivers being rude and buses being late, the links across town and beyond are very good indeed. The prices…well that’s for another day. The two main train stations, Bank Quay and Central are a key railway links. Bank Quay provides residents with the links to the North and South within a short period of time. Central Station is used more often by commuters and shoppers, travelling to either Liverpool or Manchester. But the line does extend further, placing Warrington firmly on the map in a connected Britain. All of this adds to a business boost for the town.

Ranked 16th in The Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking’s UK Town and City Index, Warrington has been praised for its above average business start-ups and satisfaction amongst employees across the town. Whether it be pubs in the suburbs or small ventures in the town centre, it is clear that businesses are successful. Furthermore, the local retail parks boast some of the biggest stores in the town. At Gemini Retail Park, the second largest Marks and Spencer outside London is a real success story, whilst the first IKEA to be built in the UK is next door. Across the town, retail parks are shining examples of businesses with an optimistic outlook despite the gloomy figures. The future looks bright as well. Building work on the Omega site has begun with warehouses and roads taking shape. It may take nearly thirty years to complete, but the plan is for Warrington to be an international hub as one of Europe’s largest business parks.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

An impression of what the new Omega site could look like.

A key tool in unifying town folk shelves any resemblance to Warrington being “crap”. The history and culture of the town is one that brings pride. There is plenty of history, whether it be the Roman crossing point for the River Mersey, Oliver Cromwell’s residence during the Civil War or the scars at RAF Burtonwood. The key “wire” industry of years gone-by has placed Warrington on the history timeline, whilst strong links still remain to the industrial past. There’s plenty of culture too. The Parr Hall has boasted some the UK’s best known comedians including Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay, whilst The Pyramid arts centre and museum boast much about the pride of the town and also a showcase of what the town can achieve, through projects and links with local schools. Warrington Walking Day, an annual event, sees churches walk together through the streets, whilst carnivals and events all year round see the thriving community spirit.

In sport, the iconic Warrington Wolves team have grown with history to become a force in the Rugby League world. Rugby followers and those who don’t follow alike hold one thing in common – support for their town team. Rowing, Athletics and Rugby Union are also represented in the town strongly, whilst the Warrington Town football team are currently in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

Walking Day is popular amongst residents.

There is one event that unifies people like no other. The IRA bombing of 1993 in Warrington town centre left two young children dead and countless more injured. In the wake of the atrocity, schools, students, parents, teachers, churches, politicians and many more stood shoulder to shoulder to support the families, friends and loved ones of the victims; The Peace Centre was set up in memory of Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball. The centre continues to offer learning services to young people with opportunities to connect and express. Annual events in the town which mark the solemn anniversary unite town people, whether it be children at school, parents at work, shoppers or social network users. United in grief, hundreds mourn the victims but admire the work and progress that has been achieved by the families to reach peace. The events of the past twenty years are held with pride and affection towards those involved and the legacy achieved.

Warrington extends much further from the negative stereotypes of a gloomy suburban town. Yes, there are some divisions between living conditions, housing conditions and even road conditions, but Warrington does bridge that gap with its community involvement to create one unified town. When the survey outlined how aspirations were low, there are two factors. Yes, the environment you live in, but also the person themselves. Anybody can achieve regardless as to how “crap” their town is. Look at Chris Evans, from Warrington. Pete Waterman, from Warrington. Sue Johnston, from Warrington. The list goes on.

The Omega project is a promising development. Warrington Borough Council recently gave the go ahead for a new regeneration project of the town centre. Proposals include a new cinema, new eateries and an improvement of town centre leisure and recreational activities.

The original question was about whether Warrington or any town for that matter is “crap”. Stereotypes will always be present as will divisions. But if you strip to the reality of where you live and see what is actually happening, I’d say Warrington was better than “crap”.

Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places To Live In The UK will be available from online retailers.
For more information on what to do in Warrington, visit http://www.warrington.gov.uk

Budget 2013 – political sense or Whitehall washout ?

Smiling...for now. The Chancellor sets out his Budget aims.

Smiling…for now. The Chancellor sets out his budget aims.

UK Chancellor George Osborne virtually pleaded with the nation today to stay with him despite the economic gloom. And you can stay with him on Twitter as he started tweeting today; One thought he may have tweeted the budget rather than in person. In his fourth budget, Osborne declared that the UK would avoid a “triple dip” recession, despite slow sales on high streets across the UK.

The Chancellor aimed the budget at people who wanted to “work and get on”. In other words, those people who earn the money, pay tax and can afford to cope with the new budget aims.

In a range of measures announced at Westminster, Mr Osborne announced there would be more help for first time homebuyers. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the new scheme, Help to Buy, allowing buyers to put down a 5% deposit on a newly built house. 20% of the payment for the house will be through a “shared equity” loan which means the government will effectively take a “stake” in the property; The loan will need to be repaid by the borrower before the house is sold. You may ask at this point how the economy will benefit. Because of the type of loan, if the price of the home has doubled at the time of selling, then so will the loan and indeed the buyer repaying will have a larger bill to foot. However, the risk being made by the government is not knowing how many home valuations will actually decrease or stay the same rather than increase.

In other announcements, a number of mispredictions have been put right…for now. Osborne made a U-Turn on his prediction of growth in the economy. Four months ago, he stated that growth will be of 1.2% avoiding a “triple dip” recession. Today that figure was revised to 0.6%. In another misprediction, Chancellor Osborne declared that the national debt of the UK will continue to increase and not start to come down until at least 2017 – two years more than the coalition’s original estimate.

Much of the budget announcement seemed to be like a U-Turn or a road diversion, taking away emphasis of the gloom of the economy onto the positives the government see themselves as doing. The dithering on fuel duty tax came to an end at lunchtime when Osborne announced that the planned increase on the tax would be cancelled altogether. Instead the current 57.95p per litre will stay in force for two years. To put it into perspective, Osborne, who travels in government vehicles and first class with Virgin, used ordinary cars such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra to connect with the ordinary voter. The good news is that if you do own a smaller engine car, the driver will be paying around £7 less. So what about the government Range Rovers and Jaguars?

Cuts to Whitehall departments will save £2.5bn which will be used for new infrastructure projects, whilst a cut to the amount of National Insurance employers pay per employee will be decreased allowing more money to be spent on providing more jobs for the 2.52 million people currently out of work.

It appears that the Chancellor has put a positive light on himself and the government, helping homebuyers, motorists and business’, however the fact still remains that the UK economy is in a very dire place. There is limited money to spend and economic predictions appear to have been miscalculated…by the man in charge of the country’s finances.

Whitehall does take the brunt of the cuts and perhaps in some areas of todays speech, there is some political sense. The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, made it clear that the Chancellor had promised a return to “good times” three years ago. Three years on and those promises still have not come true. But despite the misery, gloom and slow growth, there is at least some light in your local pub – George Osborne announced a 1p cut from the cost of a pint of beer this lunchtime. That’ll be 1p less on tonight’s House of Commons bar bill.