Liverpool Council to step away from operating cruise terminal

It is time for Liverpool Council to “get out of the way” and hand over the operation of its cruise terminal to the private sector according to senior officials.

After 16 years, the local authority has signalled its intent to end its tenure as the operator of the site at Princes Parade and hand over responsibility to a third-party operator. The move was first mooted in December last year and now fresh documents released by the city council have revealed how it intends to hand back its lease to Mersey Port Authority.

Cllr Harry Doyle, cabinet member for health, wellbeing and culture, said the council had reached “a point where we’re asking is it right the council delivers this when so much has changed?”

Liverpool Council has operated the terminal since 2007. A report to go to the culture select committee next week set out how due to “best value reasons” the city intends to step away from its current arrangement. 

It said, “This is to steer a new course and make way for an alternative provider so that investment and development opportunities can be secured. The Cruise Terminal currently has certain financial obligations, however by surrendering the lease the Council would have no further financial obligations or liabilities for the Cruise Liner Berth, but the City would still retain all the economic benefit.”

In December last year, Angie Redhead, the council’s head of assets, admitted it takes a “significant spend” for the city to keep the terminal afloat and as a result, after more than a decade it was a good time for the council to step away from the service, let the private sector take over and “sell high”.

Outlining the future steps, Ms Redhead told the LDRS how costs for the council had increased to around £90m. She said, “It’s always been about passenger spend.” 

She added how the coronavirus pandemic had proved to be a significant challenge for the maritime sector, placing further pressure on the council. Ms Redhead said, “We didn’t know who would fold next, the industry was decimated by covid.” 

The council officer said how maritime staff “didn’t know if the sector would ever recover,” and said this had been exacerbated by fuel prices as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The report said that when the council built the cruise liner berth originally, it had been intended that a third-party would undertake the operation and take on the financial liability, but this did not materialise, leaving Liverpool in the unique position of being the only city with a council-owned and operated terminal.

Cllr Doyle said despite the council’s “grown up” decision to move away, the terminal had been a success for the city. He said, “It’s a heavily investable asset and we’re at a point where we’re asking is it right the council delivers this when so much has changed?

“Ultimately we don’t have the capital to invest in more maintenance and it will require that in the next two to three years. It’s vital for the city and we’ve taken it to a place where we’ve improved it but it needs to go further.

“It’s a perfect opportunity and we’re seizing it to allow the industry to grow in the city.”

This was echoed by his cabinet colleague, Cllr Nick Small. He said, “It’s about saying now the private sector needs to step up and we can look at other areas we can invest in. We have a strong legacy for this.

“We don’t want to crowd out private investment.”

Ms Redhead said the proposed changes would not impact cruise passengers in future, saying the only visible amendment would be “the name above the door.” She said, “It’s time for us to get out of the way.

“The private sector wants to invest in ways the council can’t.”

The report will be considered by the committee next week at Liverpool Town Hall.

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