Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Region's historic population fall

By Mark McGregor
BBC News, Merseyside

Pier Head building
Merseyside has undergone economic growth despite the population fall

Merseyside's population fell faster and further over the last 25 years than anywhere else in England, a report has highlighted.

Between 1981 and 2006, the region saw a 6.8% drop in it's population - a legacy of the severe economic decline it endured during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, according to experts.

The figures are highlighted in Changing UK, an academic report commissioned by the BBC to look at how neighbourhoods have changed in the past 40 years.

Researchers found Britain becoming more polarised, with people increasingly living among others similar to them in terms of age, class and wealth.

They argue this has led to increasing feelings of isolation and political apathy.

The report makes uncomfortable reading for Merseyside.

Statistics show the region has one of the highest percentages of people classed as "breadline poor", as well a relatively high mortality rate for both infants and adults.

But among the figures used by researchers to draw the conclusions, it is Merseyside's official population statistics that stand out.

Once you start losing your talented and able section of the population it is very difficult to attract new business growth into the area if you're losing people at such a rate
Dave Moorcroft, The Mersey Partnership

While almost every other area of England has experienced population increases, Merseyside's - in common with other areas of the north - has seen a decline.

But as anyone from the area will testify, Merseyside has undergone huge changes in the last 10 years.

And according to Dave Moorcroft, director of economic development at regeneration organisation The Mersey Partnership (TMP), figures to 2006 cannot accurately reflect what he calls its "renaissance".

He said: "The Merseyside sub-region went through such a dramatic economic decline during the late 70s, 80s and 90s that inevitably the population figures are going to be seriously skewed when you look that far back.

"But as we've picked up in our analysis over the last five years, the trend of the population in the Liverpool city region area is a stabilising one, in which the high rates of decline we've seen in the 80s and 90s are now beginning to level off.

"We're now almost in touching distance of a stable population."

Liverpool John Lennon airport
Mr Moorcroft says investment in the airport has boosted the economy

Projections of stable growth are encouraging for the region's economic leaders, but the historic 6.8% drop highlighted by the report reflects the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures - and looks particularly stark compared to booming economies in south-east England.

Areas such as Cambridgeshire have seen a 28% rise in population thanks, partly, to high numbers of young adults and migrants attracted by the booming economy in the so-called Silicon Fen.

But Merseyside's economy is growing. Between 2000 and 2005 it grew by 25.9%, which was higher than the West Midlands and comparable with larger regional economies such as Greater Manchester, TMP says.

Statistics lag behind real time developments and the latest economic growth figures will encompass Capital of Culture year and new developments such as Liverpool One and the arena.

'Generational problem'

But Mr Moorcroft admits that population problems provided one of the biggest challenges to those tasked with regenerating and growing the economy.

"Once you start losing your talented and able section of the population it is very difficult to attract new business growth into the area if you're losing people at such a rate," he said.

"Once that happens it is a generational long-term problem to try and redress... but by creating these economic opportunities, people are less likely to move out of the area.

"Indeed you start to attract people in who want to stay here because, not only have you got a great quality of life, but we've got opportunities to grow and develop your career."

Strong public sector investment - at a local, national and European level - provided the infrastructure, Mr Moorcroft said, and now private investment has followed.

Money has poured into the ports, airport, high-end businesses and research facilities - all contributing to economic growth and attracting workers back, he added.

"When you actually look below the headline figures on population we are seeing a growth in our working-age population," said Mr Moorcroft.

"The growing part of our population is in that working age figure, which has seen an increase of 0.1%. Within that, the highest increase has been among 20 to 24-year-olds.

"In earlier decades we were losing our talented and able people to find work opportunities elsewhere, and that has been redressed."

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