Music

Can Eurovision 2023 help Liverpool fight for a better future?

The city is buzzing with excitement as it gears up for Eurovision 2023. But will the song contest have a lasting impact or will the people of Liverpool be forgotten?

Liverpool Eurovision 2023

The hope is that Liverpool will keep thriving long after Eurovision is over. Image: BBC/ James Stack

“Liverpool is electric. You can feel it in the air,” Harry Doyle says, almost bursting with excitement for Eurovision 2023. “There are so many people in the city and it’s not just in the city. It’s outside the city and in the community. You can feel it everywhere. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Doyle is to thank for the lively, fabulously-costumed crowds flocking to Liverpool this weekend. As the cabinet member for culture and visitor economy in the city council, he was key to landing Eurovision for his city. And he feels passionately that the campest song contest around will keep Liverpool thriving for years to come. 

“Liverpool is being talked about right across Europe and beyond,” he marvels. “It’s positioning ourselves as an outward facing city. We are unique. We are different. We have our own story to tell. For us, being able to showcase our city on this international stage is hugely important.”

Liverpool Eurovision 2023
Liverpool waterfront lit up for Eurovision 2023. Image: Ant Clausen/ Marketing Liverpool

There is certainly a vibrancy in Liverpool. Children are learning to speak Ukrainian in schools and being taught about the cultures of the different countries involved. Choirs are going into care homes and memories of music and laughter are being rejuvenated. And as people arrive in the city from across Europe and the world, they are greeted with a big Scouse welcome. 

“It is an investment for us,” Doyle says. He claims more than 100,000 visitors have come to Liverpool for Eurovision already, which has had a “massive economic impact” and helped the region recover after the pandemic. “Liverpool relies heavily on the visiting economy. And it creates jobs. It is a massive sector for us. This event has allowed us to better ourselves and get back to where we were before the pandemic.”

An investment it certainly is – the staging alone is costing local authorities £4 million. Doyle admits the total figure is likely a lot more. The BBC estimates it will spend between £8m and £17m on Eurovision, and the government has pledged £10m, some of which will go towards financially assisting the BBC.

As with any big cost, especially when some of it is coming directly from the purse of local people, it has to be asked whether it’s worth it. This is a community facing deprivation and poverty, which is worsening in the cost of living crisis. 

“In Liverpool over one in three residents are food insecure, worrying about how they will afford food for their family that week, reducing the quality and quantity of foods, skipping meals and for some going hungry,” says Naomi Maynard, the director of charity Feeding Liverpool

More than 2,000 emergency food parcels are distributed every week in Liverpool. Around one in five of these parcels go to working people who can no longer make ends meet.  Donations to the city’s food banks are at an all-time low while demand is high, as middle-income families face squeezed budgets. 

“Years of austerity, cuts to public funding, the increase of low-paid insecure working patterns and the impact of the pandemic have left Liverpool particularly vulnerable to the effects of the cost of living crisis this year,” Maynard adds.

So can the costs of Eurovision be justified? The visitor economy in the region is worth nearly £5 billion each year and supports over 55,000 jobs (according to pre-pandemic figures). But it faced a seismic shock during the pandemic and the region experienced a loss of £3bn in 2020 alone. 

“Eurovision provides that springboard to get people back into work,” Doyle says. There were job fairs hosted by the local authorities and government, with thousands of jobs up for grabs. “There were a lot of areas where we were backfilling jobs that we had lost from the pandemic, so it’s growing and many of those jobs will be permanent. And we have lots of people working just at the events, who can use that experience and hopefully go on to full-time and permanent jobs.”

The food and drink industry is thriving. Image: Ant Clausen/ Marketing Liverpool

Maynard warns that authorities must make sure people are paid fairly, so they can afford the basics they need to live. “Our hope is that Eurovision shines a spotlight on our city that does not go out after May 2023, but energises and sustains Liverpool’s hospitality and tourism industries,” she says. 

“But for the legacy of Eurovision to be long lasting, these industries must be adequately supported to ensure they can build a legacy on the principles of fair pay and sustainability. Fairly-paid employment is a vital foundation to tackling inequality in the city.”

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Feeding Liverpool advocates for people across all industries to be paid a Real Living Wage and for those on temporary or flexible contracts to be offered Real Living hours. If the community is really going to thrive, it needs to have the proper support systems in place and for them to continue long after Eurovision is over. 

History shows it is possible to leave a long-lasting legacy behind and for big events like this to benefit a community well into the future. Just look at Stratford after the London Olympics: it created tens of thousands of jobs in the area, and the Olympic village became a housing estate with more than 1,000 affordable homes. 

Westfield Stratford is one of the largest urban shopping centres in Europe, attracting more than 50 million visitors each year. Stratford is the fifth busiest train station in Britain. For a place which was once one of the most deprived in the UK, the regeneration has been pretty remarkable. 

How about Glasgow after the 2014 Commonwealth Games? An official report into the games said it was worth £740m to the Scottish economy, with Glasgow itself gaining £390m. But these figures came out in 2015, and there has been little research into the long-term impact it has had on the economy. The former sports minister Nadine Dorries even appeared to forget about Glasgow ever hosting the games. 

A committee report in 2017 found there was “no current evidence of an active legacy” of the games getting people off the couch and into fitness. But maybe the Eurovision Song Contest will have more success in getting people into music (and fabulous costumes)? Doyle certainly thinks so. 

Liverpool is ready for Eurovision 2023. Image: Ant Clausen/ Marketing Liverpool

He believes it will shape the future of the city and support homegrown talent in the music sector. Everyone knows Liverpool for the Beatles. Now Eurovision’s legacy may well ensure the next generation of musicians are given the spotlight they need to become global stars – perhaps even the next Beatles. 

“It’s safe to say that Liverpool wouldn’t be Liverpool without music – and music wouldn’t be music without Liverpool,” the mayor of the city region Steve Rotheram previously crowed. “No region in the UK has had more number one hits – and nowhere can throw a party quite like us. I can think of nowhere more qualified, more experienced or more fitting to host the Eurovision.”

“Everyone has played a big part in that Scouse welcome. It is just a gorgeous atmosphere,” Doyle adds. “The future looks very bright. We are a city that loves the extraordinary. We are a friendly outward-facing city. We always punch above our weight. We strive to do our best and we will never ever shy away from a challenge. We absolutely do it to the best of our ability. We do a fantastic job. And that is what Eurovision is going to show.” 

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