Wednesday 28th October 2020

Prize Giving Evening

Our guest speaker for the evening was Jack Stopforth. To read his well received speech in its entirety, please click here.

Guest Speaker - Mr Stopforth's Speech

Ladies and gentlemen – and students of St Margaret’s Academy…

Good evening and thank you for asking my wife, Carolyn, and me to be part of this evening’s celebration. It is especially pleasing for me, as an old boy of the school, to enjoy your continuing success.

I believe passionately in education and life-long learning but, tempting as it is in this place, I won’t preach about its importance or implore you to work harder, because that would be patronising and presumptuous and you deserve more respect than that.

Anyway – you are all bright young people and you do not need me to tell you that unless you work hard you will underachieve and that is one depressing prospect.

40 years ago, I studied the poetry of Robert Browning at St Margaret’s and one phrase has stayed with me ever since. Browning wrote “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp – or what’s a Heaven for?”

A no less poetical soul, Bill Shankley, put it just as powerfully when he said, “Aim for the sky and you'll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you'll stay on the floor.”

No need to labour the point. Better instead to illustrate how in practical terms your education might add real value to your lives.

Every November, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce holds its Annual Dinner.

It is a smart, black-tie affair that attracts the city’s business leaders in their hundreds.

This year’s event is on 20th November at the new BT Convention Centre and our principal guest will be the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson.

Back in 2006, our guest speaker was a man called John Fleming, the Chief Executive Officer of Ford of Europe and Vice President of Ford Motor Company, worldwide. One of the world’s leading businessmen.

The evening was sponsored by Alliance and Leicester Bank, whose managing director was a man called Bill Sutton.

It was a great evening – but what gave me special satisfaction was that all three of us – Host, Principal Guest and Sponsor – were St Margaret’s Old Boys.

John Fleming was an exact contemporary of mine and Bill Sutton was a school year older – all three of us lads from humble backgrounds in inner city Liverpool and all 3 aware of the debt we owed SMA.

In fact, the story behind John Fleming’s agreeing to speak to the Chamber that night was a St Margaret’s tale in its own right.

Shortly after I returned to Liverpool as CEO of the Chamber, John Ledger kindly sent me a copy of the school magazine, which featured my appointment. I was just beginning to feel pleased with myself when I turned the page and saw John Fleming’s face staring back. CEO of Ford of Europe! One of the top business figures in the world.

Now, I hadn’t spoken to John for 40 years. After doing very well at O Levels (the predecessor of GCSEs) John left school to become an engineering apprentice at Fords Halewood, while I stayed on to do A Levels.

But throughout his time at SMA, John and I had played football in the most successful school teams in Liverpool. We won the Echo Cup, Martindale Cup and Lancashire Schools Cup and both John and I played for Liverpool Schoolboys.

So I just knew that when I asked my secretary to telephone his office in Cologne, John would take the call – especially when she said it was from his old football skipper. He did – and he agreed immediately to speak at the dinner. So what does all that tell you about education and SMA in particular?

  • That friendships forged in school last forever, even when they are not fostered for years;
  • That the confidence we 3 old boys derived from our years at SMA provided a cracking start for our subsequent careers, and
  • That this school producers leaders, not followers.

The last time I was in this wonderful place was about a month ago, as a panellist in a debate over Liverpool’s future.

A chap called Dr Tim Leunig had caused a national stir when he argued that the millions of pounds poured into Liverpool and other cities to regenerate them, had failed to bridge the gap between us and London or other competitors. The best thing local people could do, therefore, was to move to more prosperous cities such as London or Oxford, to improve their life chances.

This was a classic case of a sound premise leading to a faulty conclusion. A real non-sequiter.

Tim Leunig’s facts and figures were well-researched and inarguable. The millions invested in our infrastructure since 1945 have led to improvements in absolute terms but not in relative terms – because cities like Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham have improved at a comparable pace, and so the gap has not narrowed.

However, Dr Leunig was using official statistics that were typically at least three years old and so took no account of the extraordinary public and private sector investments that have happened in the lead up to European Capital of Culture.

You know the list of projects as well as I do:

  • £1 billion from Grosvenor for L1;
  • £1 billion in the commercial district to create 3 million square feet of new and refurbished office accommodation;
  • £1billion in new hotels, restaurants and bars;
  • £billions more planned or already committed for phenomenal commercial projects including the Superport, Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters.

The list excludes the Liverpool Arena and Conference Centre, the new Museum of Liverpool and the Cruise Liner terminal, because they are publicly-funded projects.

The £4bn plus-worth of projects in my list are all privately funded, and that represents a phenomenal step change in the economic development of our city.

In short, the private sector has stepped up to the plate and is ready to drive this economy forward, notwithstanding the current turmoil in the financial markets and the difficult consequences for many of our local businesses.

Dr Leunig needed to hold his counsel for another three or four years, by which time I am convinced that those exceptional investments– which are NOT being replicated in our competitor cities - will have matured into world-beating assets and we will see that gap closing.

That is the legacy of 2008 but it will need the skills and achievements of people like you to sustain it.

Future investors will want to be sure that Liverpool really is a city on the up and the first and last thing they will measure will be the quality of the young people in our schools and universities.

You face a challenging and competitive future and I wish you well for all our sakes.

St Margaret’s has a proud history of producing winners and I have no doubt that you will be among them.

And talking of winners, there’s a great Post Script to that story about John Fleming of Ford.

When I flew to Cologne to brief John about the dinner, he kindly took me to supper but had to leave at seven o’clock to have an early night because the Ford Jet was scheduled to fly him to Moscow at 5 am the following day for a breakfast meeting with President Putin to discuss the future of the European car industry.

Not bad for a working class lad from Dingle. Not bad for an SMA old boy.

Thank you for listening.