6 min read
Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, has expressed frustration with the country’s buckling transport infrastructure as thousands of people prepare to travel to the city for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Liverpool is hosting Eurovision between 9-13 May on behalf of Ukraine, which won last year’s contest but is unable to host as a result of Russia’s brutal invasion. The United Kingdom came second in the competition last year and was selected to take on the role usually adopted by the country that comes first.
Rotheram gleefully promised PoliticsHome the event will be “the biggest party you’ve ever seen”.
“It’s a beautiful, sunny, glad-to-be-alive day in a fantastic city,” Rotheram declared as he gave an aerial webcam tour of Liverpool from the window of his office during this interview.
But while the Labour mayor is looking forward to showcasing Liverpool to a huge influx of Eurovision tourists, and insists that transport within the city itself is expected to run smoothly, he was dismayed that those attending from further afield may not have an easy ride getting to and from the city.
The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA) has put on extra late night bus and train services that will not be affected by strikes by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) affecting 14 operators in a long-running dispute over pay. Last year Merseyrail workers were given a 7.1 per cent pay rise in a deal to end strike action, meaning trains within Liverpool itself will be running as usual.
But national rail strikes will still take place on the same day as the Eurovision final, affecting those travelling from Liverpool to elsewhere in the country.
“We [Liverpool] have had no industrial action for five years while it’s been absolute chaos around the whole country, and that’s because we were in dialogue with unions throughout that whole period,” Rotheram explained.
“It’s the government’s responsibility to sit down with the unions and to try and thrash out a settlement with them at the 11th hour [before Eurovision].
“[Unions] want to talk to the government and they want the government to come up with a negotiated settlement.”
Although the LCRCA will put on additional services in the city to ensure people can get home after the final finishes at around 12:30 am, Rotheram warned this will not extend to travel across the country, which he described as a “shambles”.
“For something as huge as this, our national transport system is not up to the job because it’s been starved of investment for years and years, and it’s creaking at the seams,” he said.
“Obviously we can’t run a national system of transport from here, that really is the government’s job and obviously they failed with the strikes being on during such an important occasion for us.”
The metro mayor said he suspected that if the competition weren’t being held in Liverpool, special transport arrangements may be in place to accommodate the unusually high numbers of people travelling out of hours.
“It’s noticeable that for the coronation, trains will be running in the capital right the way through the night, and yet the burden was placed on us to try and find solutions, which the Department of Transport at this point has given us no real financial support to do,” he said.
“I’ve got no qualms at all against London for being supported because the coronation will need additional resources, but if [Eurovision] had happened elsewhere in the country, I do believe that probably they would get more favourable treatment from this particular government.”
London’s underground and train networks also ran extended timetables during the 2012 Olympics, and transport was included in the £9.3bn ‘Public Sector Funding Package’ for the Games.
Rotheram said he had spoken to the transport secretary Mark Harper about the need to support Liverpool to carry out an event “on behalf of the country”.
“Eurovision is happening in Liverpool, but that doesn’t mean that the government, because it’s not happening in London, can sit back and take things easy,” he said.
“They should be pulling out all the stops to ensure that they come to a settlement so the unions withdraw the threat of those strikes, and we can get on with people coming here and going home freely.”
Liverpool has spent the last year gearing up for the event, including investing £500m in new publicly owned trains that Rotheram says are the “most accessible and sophisticated in the entire country”.
This investment, Rotherham hopes, will help to bring more success to Liverpool’s growing tourism industry, particularly after hundreds of thousands of people stream into the city for Eurovision.
Rotheram told PoliticsHome he hopes there will be plenty of “return visitors” after the contest.
“Our visitor economy is 52,000 people and about £5bn of Gross Value Added (GVA) every year, and we want to build on that,” he said.
The regional mayor added that he wants to dispel any wrong impressions people get about Liverpool, which has historically been connected with government-endorsed economic decline, particularly in relation to riots in the 1980s.
“Those misperceptions will literally be blown away when they come here and feel the warmth and friendliness of this city and what this means for this area. It is an opportunity to showcase all the wonderful things we do,” he continued.
“One of the already identifiable and demonstrable successes of this is that we’re also representing Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people are amazed at what they’ve already seen.”
Rotheram’s excitement for Liverpool’s moment in the spotlight is palpable, and the city will soon also host the Battle of the Atlantic commemorative weekend and the Open Championship golf tournament.
“It’s really busy period, but it’s always exciting doing the job that I’m doing,” he said.
Describing his own work on transport in the Liverpool region as “socialism in action”, Rotherham said he wants the city to be an example to the rest of the country.
“Don’t be afraid of this,” he said. “Have a look at what we’re doing and it can be really good for everyone.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Eurovision is a unique international event, and we’re proud to support this year’s event and its tribute to the people of Ukraine.
“We are engaging closely with event organisers to keep the disruption of unnecessary strike action by ASLEF and the RMT to a minimum. The government has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in local transport for Merseyside.”
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