...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 2781: Cities on the Edge of Forever aka Abandon hope all ye who enter Liverpool!


Oh very fluffy dear. A lot of FUSS has been caused by the new pamphlet from the Policy Exchange.

Opinion has been divided between:

Northern Tuff: "Eee, ow very dare you! Appen our Northern cities r'as fine as any of yon poofy southen uns, by eck if they're not!"


Southern Jessie: "Ay say, what jolly poor show, we're too bally overcryded already! We don't want a hale load of oiks coming down ere ryning the hayce prices, dontcha know!"

But if Mr Balloon AND the Minister for Magical Accidents are rubbishing it, it must be doing SOMETHING right!

Mr Prescott, the former Magical Minister, was on the Newsnight Show defending his time spent pouring billions into centrally controlled redevelopment schemes and improvement gimmicks.

"Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! THE TORIES! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!" he bellowed.

Just for once you wished Ms Waaaark had done her homework, 'cos she could have shot el Prezza down right there: "Mr Leunig ISN'T a Conservatory, you ignorant, prejudiced, half-witted buffoon," she could have said.

"And besides, didn't you 'improve' Hull so magnificently that the people of that fair city… ditched you for the Liberal Democrats?"

Now Mr Balloon has commented.

"Insane," says Mr Balloon.

Though of course, since the City of Liverpool is not a member of the Conservatory Party he cannot comment further.

The way it's being reported is that the report by a "Conservatory" think tank is suggesting that the cities of the North should be abandoned and their citizens moved to the South East where the jobs are.

You would think it said the entire North of England should be raised to the ground and the people led in chains to be paraded in loin-cloths before the Emperor Balloon before being fed to the cat-monsters in the new Olympic Stadium.

Instead, if you READ it, there appear to be two quite reasonable suggestions.

First suggestion: look at the evidence.

For all the money spent by the Magical Minister and his new layers of unaccountable quangocracy, has it actually helped the redevelopment cities to catch up? NOT has it had any effect at all – you cannot deny that there are many beautiful buildings, and many gainfully employed people, and many wonderful artistic projects in the development cities. But on average, wages are STILL lower and there is STILL more poverty there than in the South East where no redevelopment money has been spent. And in fact the gap is getting WORSE.

Second suggestion: stop spending all that money centrally. Simplify the system for allocating it and give it to the local councils to spend how THEY want, or more importantly, how the local people want it spent! If they still WANT the same redevelopment scheme then there's nothing to stop them. Or they could do something else. That seems like a very LIBERAL idea. Cut the state, devolve the power, put people back in charge.

Quite the OPPOSITE of abandoning the Northern Cities, the suggestion is to stop treating them like babies who need nurse-maiding by the Magical Minister in Whitehall and PUT THEM IN CHARGE of sorting themselves out!

Now, the OTHER part of the pamphlet also suggests allowing cities in the South East to expand – London, obviously, along with Oxford and Cambridge all get fingered.

Now it seems to me that this is about OPPORTUNITY and not about some crass "on yer bike" COMPULSION. Looking at the evidence (again): people are ALREADY coming to London from the cities and regions of the United Kingdom.

In free market economic terms, housing is THE barrier to entry in the South-Eastern labour market.

The shortage of decent housing in the South East is the key reason that people remain TRAPPED in poverty. If people who WANT to move are blocked from doing so, then there will be too many people and too few jobs in the North, and the reverse problem in the South.

That drives inflation too – because if there is a shortage of labour in the South then people can demand more pay (if only to cover the higher cost of living) and that means costs go up all over.

This drives up house prices too (AND leads to rip-off builders building smaller and smaller rabbit hutches in the knowledge that some poor sap is still going to be forced into buying).

And the North is left even further behind.

Now, you might quite legitimately argue whether people moving en masse to the South is a good thing or a bad thing. More people and more cities means pushing back the green belt and putting ever greater strain on resources like water and electrical supply, which means more infrastructure to move power and water around the country which means more greenhouse emissions which means melting icecaps and the whole of the South East drowning in the long term anyway, and THEN all the people still in the North can feel smug.

But at least look at the evidence and SEE that it is HAPPENING and then plan accordingly.

Mind you, I'm not going to include that as one of the "reasonable" suggestions… 'cos I’m not sure how you do that without contradicting the whole "return power to local people" bit earlier.


Julian H said...

Good piece as usual.

*pats Elephant on head*

Jennie said...

It is interesting that Tim, as a Lib Dem, is advocating a cut in funding as punishment for all these recently-turned-Lib-Dem cities, though...

* stirstirstir *

sanbikinoraion said...

Someone else has looked at the numbers and reckons that the regeneration did work.

Jennie said...

PSA: You've been shortlisted for best political blog in my blog awards, which will be decided by public vote. Just so as you know.