The Big Question: Will Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture be a success?

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The Independent Culture

Why are we asking this now?

Because in 95 days' time, Liverpool's Capital of Culture year will get under way, and yesterday the city unveiled its full programme of events for the year, including the long-anticipated news that Sir Paul McCartney will be returning home to help out. Ringo Starr will be pitching in too and Eurythmic Dave Stewart (he's actually from Sunderland, but no one's complaining) will headline another event.

What sort of 'culture' can we expect?

McCartney, who will perform in the Liverpool Sound concert at Liverpool Football Club's Anfield ground on 1 June , and Starr, who will appear on top of the city's St George's Hall on the opening night on 11 January, were the headline announcements yesterday, with McCartney promising in a pre-recorded video to "show you a good time".

There will also be Liverpool the Musical, featuring compositions by every Liverpudlian musician known to man – from The La's and Space to The Beatles. This event on 12 January will launch the city's spectacular new arena beside the Mersey. Ken Dodd will appear at a major comedy event, too. But most events are free, including a highly promising new show by Artichoke, who astonished London with their gigantic wooden Sultan's Elephant 16 months ago.

Other major events were announced 12 months ago. They include a literary festival featuring Philip Pullman, Doris Lessing, Roger McGough and others; a new choral commission by Sir John Tavener; and the UK's first comprehensive exhibition of the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt at Tate Liverpool. There are also ambitious commissions from artists Ben Johnson and Richard Wilson .

There's no confirmation yet of a rumoured King Lear starring Warrington-born Pete Postlethwaite. But a fashion show featuring footballers' wives and girlfriends will draw in the crowds.

Have things gone according to plan?

No. Liverpool was on a crest of a wave when it beat Newcastle to the title against all expectations but within months plans for a futuristic building by Will Alsop, on the Mersey riverbank, were dropped when the financial structure proved untenable. Then, in June 2006, the Australian cabaret singer and festival director Robyn Archer, who had been hired on a six-figure salary, abruptly left her post and returned to Melbourne, having hardly been seen in the city. Complaints about the programme have continued, leading to the resignation from the organising committee in June of local Labour leader Joe Anderson, who said the programme of events had failed to excite the imagination of ordinary people and would fail to leave a lasting legacy. The cancellation, weeks later, of the city's huge and much-loved Mathew Street Festival because no one had remembered to get health and safety issues organised, also raised questions about whether Liverpool had simply taken too much on.

What caused the problems?

A year of in-fighting didn't help. Creative director Robyn Archer was dictatorial, according to many on the Liverpool arts scene, and offended some colleagues before her abrupt departure. Early preparations also coincided with an almighty battle between the two most powerful men in the city – council chief executive and 2008 chief Sir David Henshaw, and Lib Dem council leader Mike Storey – resulting in them both stepping down.

But bureaucracy has been a bigger problem. Playwright Willy Russell said last year that he hadn't "got a clue as to who is running this bloody thing" and it has possibly been Liverpool's misfortune to have had too long (four years) to prepare, with much talking in that time but a lack of vision for what 2008 should be about. The number of people involved made decision-making unwieldy and slow. The Liverpool Culture Company, the city council offshoot responsible for the event, was slimmed down from 25 members to six this month, to general relief in the city.

Why is Phil Redmond involved?

On yesterday's evidence, Redmond seems to have been allocated the role of applying a Scouse gloss to the controversy of the past few years. He has been on the organising committee for less than a fortnight but it was he who appeared on the BBC's Today programme yesterday, where he insisted the in-fighting was like any other "good, old, chaotic Scouse wedding". Liverpool, he said, was "a city that lives on chaos. It is a disruptive city that actually creates disruptive culture and that's a part of its heritage."

But Redmond's more important role is to make Liverpudlians feel positive about the event, by giving it what he calls "a Scouse edge". Many have felt that high culture is being parachuted into the city and Redmond, who has long-held and passionate ideas about what 2008 should represent, says he wants people to know "they don't have to have culture done to them – they can take part".

Who's in the hot seat?

The man catapulted into the limelight has been Jason Harborow, chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company. Harborow made a name as commercial manager of Manchester's successful Commonwealth Games in 2002, and was appointed director of commercial and tourist operations, before replacing the outgoing Sir David Henshaw after his own spat with Mike Storey. Harborow has ridden out calls for his resignation after the recent Mathew Street Festival debacle.

Can the Capital of Culture title make a difference to a city?

Yes – though in ways which are difficult to quantify. The benchmark for Capital of Culture cities is Glasgow, which held the title in 1990, on the back of its legendary "Glasgow's Miles Better' campaign. There has actually been very little research on the precise economic impact of 1990 and what changed in Glasgow afterwards but it seems the city benefited from the general image created by holding the title.

Will winning have effects beyond 2008 for Liverpool?

Yes. The lead-in to 2008 might have brought negative publicity but the acclaim which accompanied the city's winning the title has already worked wonders for the Liverpool property market and the general mood of economic optimism. Just as the 2002 Commonwealth Games provided a target date for Manchester, so Liverpool will have a new arena and convention centre in place in time for 2008, near the Albert Dock on the riverfront, as well as the city centre Liverpool One, one of Europe's largest city centre retail developments. A new £65m riverfront museum celebrating Liverpool's rich heritage will not arrive until 2010, because of initial funding problems, but 2008 has undoubtedly been a catalyst for it.

Can Liverpool make a success out of 2008?


* Phil Redmond has provided some much-needed stability and vision and will get Liverpudlians on board

* It has achieved economic success already, with property developers flooding in on the back of the winning bid

* Who can fail with Ringo and Macca around? 'What could be better? Liverpool 2008, Peace and Love,' Starr said yesterday


* Three months to go and the slimmed-down organising committee is only just in place. It may be a rocky ride with so much expectation

* There are already rows brewing over the cost of tickets, with some Liverpudlians feeling they have been priced out of the best events

* The collapse of the Mathew Street Festival has left many in the city wondering if there are any other disasters waiting to happen