When I opted out of a career in regional newspapers 15 years ago to specialise in business news, particularly property, I began a spell as a freelancer for national trade titles. My first regular gig was two shifts a week for EGi, Estates Gazette Interactive, covering the North West, back in the days of Beetham towers and the Fourth Grace. After visiting the editorial honchos at EG in London and securing this invaluable retainer, the first conversation I had with the commissioning editor began with her explaining that under European law I was entitled to pro rata paid holiday, even as a self-employed correspondent. I would get two fifths of the statutory minimum holiday. This was news to me but meant that over the years as a freelance I could be sure at some stage each year of being able to take a proper holiday and visit family overseas, without always having to work whilst there (I still filed from a hotel business lounge in Kuala Lumpur at my cousin’s wedding).
Five years later, when I wanted to launch my own regional trade publication, I benefited from European aid through the Objective One programme in Merseyside. Local suppliers such as Rippleffect, the Liverpool-based agency I chose to design and build this website, received grant money to subsidise the cost of supplying their services to local businesses. The money-go-round of Objective One cash in Liverpool was a hotly debated and at times infamous thing, and there were often accusations of inflated invoices being issued to exploit the system. Even if there were a few fudgy fees and some system-playing, creative agencies undoubtedly grew in Liverpool, they trained and hired good people, and as a customer I was happy to play along and just had my eyes on the service. Service that included an extremely effective sales director, who had also escaped the middle ranks of regional newspapers, who called me every Friday for six months to see how the investment raising was going and a talented creative director, Ben Hayward, with serious editorial website experience, who I still call on today. In 2006/07, when a decent website cost tens of thousands of pounds, and WordPress wasn’t a household name, that subsidy and knowhow counted an awful lot to a freelance wannabe publisher and produced something I could be proud to take to market for discerning business readers.
By then I had my own home in Aigburth, south Liverpool, between Dingle and Priory Woods, across the way from the old garden festival site and a few steps or turns of a bicycle wheel to Otterspool promenade. The wide grandeur of the river as it flowed towards the city centre and the Irish Sea, the kite flying, summery picnics and pirate-themed playgrounds on the raised lawns, the ever-changing light of the water, were a huge part of what made that area such an attractive place to live and a pleasant surprise to many visiting friends and family. A perfect place for a brief escape on a hectic deadline day.
Thirty years ago the river was heavily polluted with human effluent and industrial discharge, one of those embarrassing symbols that made Liverpool a laughing stock in many people’s eyes pre-Capital of Culture. Today the river is clean, lined with angling tourists, host to sailboat races every weekend and welcomer of cruise liners from around the world. The difference? European Union directives on water pollution, the powerful regulatory stick needed to make United Utilities invest millions of pounds in improved waste water treatment stations up and down the river.
I don’t normally take to the page to share political views, belonging to the school that says journalists shouldn’t take sides or join any particular group – better to retain our neutrality and independence.
The fact I haven’t spoken to any property folk in the past few weeks who say they want to Leave, yet don’t see many property companies campaigning to Remain, concerns me – if it matters that much is it not right to share our views at this time?
Regeneration efforts across the North West have been boosted by many European Regional Development Fund grants and loans in the past 20 years. Property markets would probably have a fit of wobbles in the next couple of years if the vote goes the way of the Leavers. These are important circumstantial factors but not so persuasive as the personal reasons I feel I have to vote Remain.