Heseltine reflects on ‘Minister for Merseyside’ role

The start of the Thatcher premiership was a tumultuous time for the city of Liverpool.

At the time of Michael Heseltine’s groundbreaking It Took A Riot memo, 55,000 people were out of work with prospects for improvement looking bleak in 1981. Industry and commerce were not the only areas struggling, with thousands of homes not fit for purpose.

It was at this point one of the most groundbreaking documents was written that would lead to a change in the city’s fortunes forever.

As “Minister for Merseyside” in the Thatcher government, Mr Heseltine focused his efforts on regeneration of the city when other members of the cabinet were dead against a move and keen to allow Liverpool to slide into “managed decline.” He revealed in a roundtable event on investment in the city how he drew up a list of 30 things he wanted to do to get Liverpool back on its feet.

Recalling his first visit as a minister to the city, he said, “There was no escape. I spent three weeks walking the streets, talking and listening.

“I came up with a list of 30 things to try to do. It was bleeding obvious nothing was going to happen but I had to try and make it happen.”

The former Deputy Prime Minister, who resigned from government in 1986, said how he would be driven round in his government car asking “what’s that, why’s that building empty? What can we do with it?” He added how it was “blooming difficult to come up with the list.  Anything that made any sort of benefit went on the list.”

Sat among the wood-panelled rooms of the Liver Building last week, Mr Heseltine said the iconic venue had become a symbol of the city’s lost confidence 40 years ago.

Despite initially being met with suspicion by leaders of Liverpool Council, Mr Heseltine said how politics had a way of “pulling all sorts of people together in unpredictable ways.” Reflecting on his work in the city, the former cabinet minister praised Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram for his ongoing commitment to clean up the River Mersey.

He said, “I stood in my hotel looking out of the window at the Mersey and asked ‘what have we done to you?’ The great life blood of the city was an open sewer.”

Mr Heseltine said the river had the potential to be “a world-leading example of the great issue of our time.”

Image: GOOGLE. Inset: University of Salford Press Office – Lord Heseltine CC BY 2.0

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