Almost all of the towns and cities in the UK evolved meeting the challenges of the nineteenth century industrial revolution. But whilst the intensity and types of industry has changed markedly, in recent years the location and size of the vast bulk of UK towns and cities has not. One notable exception is London which is an ever expanding city state and financial capital of the World.
Gauging success by outcomes alone indications are that interlinking cities, feeding London will provide a more secure future but this will be at the expense of towns and villages which will decline as services and smaller industries are withdrawn in favour of their larger neighbours.
The skills mix of the working population will also change at an ever increasing speed. Manual work will be reduced in favour of white collar and service industries. Youngsters entering the jobs market will need to possess a range of formal qualifications or risk a life dependent on social service support, (which will be strictly rationed).
The “New Labour” government identified the challenges facing the country and committed huge amounts of finance aimed at Urban Regeneration which, if successfull would greatly improve the smaller towns and cities to the North of London, Wales and Scotland. “Education, Education Education” was the mantra driving the changes. But “New Labour” failed to make any significant impact and the education gap (10-20%) between London and the South and the rest of the UK remained. Companies in London and the South East of England needed to meet the many demands on their services and embarked on a massive recruitment bender taking in well qualified students from Europe and the Far East. What was feared might happen has occurred. London has moved on but without any significant input from the North.
Urban Regeneration in England and Wales and Scotland
I have extracted information about Urban Regeneration programmes in England and the impact of the current recession on these. Scotland also suffered (through the Barnett formulae) as regeneration funding was reduced forcing the Scottish government to cancel or defer programmes and projects or transfer revenue to capital (potentially adversely impacting on committed expenditure.)
Capital Expenditure and Urban Regeneration
In the period (1997-2010) Westminster politics was dominated by Labour Party ministers representing poorer urban areas in England. The Cabinet comprised -– Jack Straw, Blackburn; David Miliband, South Shields, Tyne and Wear; Jacqui Smith, Redditch; Harriet Harman, Camberwell and Peckham; Hazel Blears, Salford; Andrew Burnham, Leigh; Hilary Benn,Leeds Central; Alan Johnson , Hull West and Hessle; Ed Balls, Normanton, West Yorkshire; and Yvette Cooper, Pontefract and Castleford.
Inevitably these ministers were committed to urban regeneration and it is no surprise that spending on urban renewal increased in the last seven years of the decade. The rise in spending under the Labour Government is comparable with the rise under the Tories in the late 1980s. But while the Tories were responding to an obvious rise in urban problems caused by a sharply changing industrial structure, Labour spent more simply because it chose to and spending from choice rather than necessity can be reversed, but at a cost.
Westminster – Capital Funding in Billions:
Note: Data based on government spending with explicit urban regeneration objectives (excludes transport, housing and industrial policies unless part of a regeneration programme.)
Urban Programme, Urban Development Corporations (including Docklands Light Railway and Jubilee Line Extension), Enterprise Zones, Urban Development Grant, Urban regeneration Grant, Derelict Land Grant, City Grant, Estate Action, Inner City Task Force, City Action Teams, English Partnerships, Housing Action Trusts, City Challenge, Coalfields Areas Fund, Objective 1 and URBAN II European Funding, Single Regeneration Budget Challenge Fund, Manchester Olympic/Commonwealth Bids, Coalfields Regeneration Trust, Coalfields Enterprise Fund, Regional Development Agencies, New Deal for Communities, Neighbourhood Support Fund, Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder, Sustainable Communities Plan (without housing costs), Local Environment/Liveability Fund, Community Empowerment Fund, Thames Gateway, London 2012 Olympics.
In 2010, at the start of the Tory/LibDem coalition government’s tenure finances were in a parlous state. and something had to give. The government tried to save money by staging pay awards but the political fallout was costly in terms of the adverse publicity it attracted and any move to cut public sector pay, nurses, doctors, teachers, police was ruled out since this would be an electoral disaster for a government, which might not serve a full term. The decision was taken to cut urban regeneration funding, which being project based was a soft target and funding was only released for projects that had enjoyed the support of large swathes of voters.
This was very bad news for many urban regeneration towns. Additionally a cost and benefit analysis indicated that urban regeneration spending had not worked, since the towns had not been regenerated. What had been achieved was a raised standard of living, since it was impossible not to derive some benefit from a spend of billions of pounds.
Withdrawal of financial support resulted in towns, (already slipping down the approval queue) falling even further behind. Cancellation of regeneration works also further adversely impacted on the personal incomes of those living in poorer urban areas. So, after nearly ten years of recession the rapid decline of many towns has been exacerbated and the salary gap between the have and have nots of society has been elevated markedly. Lessons from history indicate that even when the good times return, (if ever) the decline of towns and wages gap will not be reversed which does not bode well for the future.
Leith Docks Project
If or when the opportunity arises for another Scottish independence referendum Scots should reflect on the foregoing (since the direction of an economy run by Westminster is recession after recession and an ever widening earnings gap between the richer and poorer members of society.) and vote “Yes” taking Scotland away from the madness of the Westminster elite