This morning I came out of hospital after 6 days. This afternoon after listening to Cameron and Milliband on the PM programme I felt so ill that I nearly demanded my bed back! Ill thought platitudes with accusations of knee jerk reactions, short-term expediency and firm leadership set against a background of being statesmanlike to appeal to middle England who apparently are waiting upon every word of these ill informed gents.
The disturbances of last week should not need knee jerk reactions because they only told most people who knew about our depressed urban areas what we knew already. They crystallised problems in one particular week that have existed down the decades and certainly have existed in most of the places where the disturbances took place since the last major disturbances in 1981.
Since then the regeneration policies of successive governments, both local and national, have concentrated in three areas in none of which have they been successful. This is not just a Lib Dem attack on the other Parties because where we have held local power we have largely played the same themes to attract the only money in town to deal with problems we faced.
The areas are:
Industrial: It has been clear for longer than the last three decades that manufacturing was moving to other countries and that service industries were moving to London and the South East. Government after government introduced regional strategies, including this one through its Regional Development Fund which were designed to compensate for macroeconomic moves with micro economic initiatives. This was always a programme doomed to failure. Indeed macroeconomic policy more than counter balanced this. In 1997 manufacturing accounted for 21% of the nation’s GDP by 2010 it accounted for 13%. Both governments were prepared to let banking fill the gap. Banking was fuelled by exchange rate policies which helped the bankers but discriminated against manufacturers and by lax regulation, the effects of which became only too apparent in 2007/8. The solution? Have a long term manufacturing strategy which invests in people, businesses, research and plant and stick to it.
Area based activity: I cannot now recount all the successive initiatives which have flown though since 1981 even though many of them helped pay my mortgage. From the poorly performing Development Corporations of Heseltine to the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy of Prescott they hardly landed a glove on the problems they were designed to tackle. A series of short term projects and programmes were established to deal with essentially long term projects. Yes the schemes worked in the short term by creating better places for poor and disadvantaged people to live in but all too often they merely reinforced the ghetto atmosphere of those areas and left those areas still places where few people chose to move into but chose to move out of if possible. The solution? Reinvigorate Labour’s half hearted Neighbourhood Programmes and deal with long term problems over the long term.
People based activity: Here there have been even more sets of initiatives. Remember YTS, OPS, JSA, FJF? Then you haven’t even remembered 10% of the schemes that have been in existence over these decades. People who were ill educated and coming from ‘families’ with low motivation, low aspiration, low internal resources and no experience of working life were pitched onto a bewildering array of schemes, programmes and projects which if they were lucky paid minimum income wages to 6 months to a year before leading back to the dole queue as the next person got their six months worth. Nowhere has the significant problem of inter-generational unresponsive families been comprehensively tackled. The solution? Galvanise the Governments’ existing CSR programme for ‘Families with complex needs’ an d support it long term so that these families area assisted for at least a decade not at least a month.
Spot the similarities? All my solutions talk about long term. For too long we have played the game of short termism. A sticking plaster here and a sticking plaster there did not address the real needs of the areas where the disturbances took place. Cameron’s talk of bringing in Buffalo Bill from America and Milliband’s froth about setting up an enquiry to tell us about things we already know are ill thought out and show a paucity of thought at the top of the leadership of two of our 3 Parties.
Tomorrow its Nick’s turn. Let’s just hope he can rise to the occasion by at least setting out the challenges in a more long and fundamental way even if he does not provide us with all the answers.