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The Economist article is offensive and misses the point – so just another typical view from London about Yorkshire then!

October 12, 2013

Notwithstanding the offensive and totally misplaced comment about Hull in The Economist article (reproduced below) this week, the article rather misses the point about how best to spend the ‘dollops of public money’ given to ‘failing’ cities and towns in the North. Much of this money has indeed not worked in transforming the economy of Yorkshire (although much has) . However, this is less to do with the apparent emphasis on museums, arts centres and welfare which The Economist is blaming rather than Whitehall and Westminster deciding what money is spent in our region and how. The Economist itself admits the spending on transport infrastructure would help. This surely is a given. It is well documented how little per head of population is spent in Yorkshire compared with London and the south-east and every week projects are added to the list in the region, whether it be improving rail services around Harrogate or dualling York’s outer ring road, which require funding and a cap in hand visit to the relevant Ministry. But instead, in London’s wisdom, we get HS2. It is this persistent sense of London knowing what is right for Yorkshire that needs to be overcome. This is why YDM advocates a greater devolution of powers to Yorkshire so as spending can be targeted in a way that successive governments have failed to deliver. We need look no further than Scotland in order to measure the positive difference devolution can have in communities.

Perhaps The Economist would be better placed and join in the debate on devolution to the English regions rather than suggesting the good folk of Yorkshire give up on some of their great cities and towns and in effect move to Swindon.

City sicker: Britain’s decaying towns

Some towns cannot be preserved. Save their inhabitants instead

IN THEIR day they were the engines of the world economy, noisy with steam hammers and black with soot. They were never huge—in 1862 William Gladstone called Middlesbrough an “infant Hercules”—but most are smaller than they once were. Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort, a string of towns and smallish cities in Britain’s former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.

Middlesbrough, Burnley, Hartlepool, Hull and many others were in trouble even before the financial crisis. These days their unemployment rates are roughly double the national average, and talented young people are draining away (see article). Their high streets are thick with betting shops and payday lenders, if they are not empty. Wolverhampton looks the worst, having condemned

Under the last Labour government these towns were propped up on piles of public money. Some built museums and arts centres in an attempt to draw tourists, though this rarely worked. All became dependent on welfare. But there is little money for grand projects these days. And cuts to welfare, enacted by the Conservative-led coalition government in an attempt to balance the books, are falling brutally there. In Hartlepool the cuts amount to £712 for every working-age person. In Guildford, a middle-class commuter town south of London, they add up to just £263.

The fate of these once-confident places is sad. That so many well-intentioned people are trying so hard to save them suggests how much affection they still claim. The coalition is trying to help in its own way, by setting up “enterprise zones” where taxes are low and broadband fast. But these kindly efforts are misguided. Governments should not try to rescue failing towns. Instead, they should support the people who live in them.

That means helping them to commute or move to places where there are jobs—and giving them the skills to get those jobs. Some of this is being done. More money is now going to schools in poor areas, thanks to a policy known as the pupil premium. Transport is going the wrong way, though. Claiming that it will help the north of England, the government wants to pour money into a high-speed railway line that would connect London with Leeds and Manchester. But the north is big, and the line goes nowhere near many of the trouble spots. Leeds is only slightly closer to Hartlepool than London is to Calais. Unglamorous things like expanding bus networks and improving signalling, so that it is possible to run more regional trains, would be more helpful.

Spending money or cutting taxes to encourage people and businesses to settle in run-down areas can help those areas, at least for a while. But it diverts talent and business away from places where they would be more successful. Helped by their universities and their more diverse economies, many of Britain’s large cities have been able to claw their way back from post-industrial decline. The infant Hercules is ailing. Hercules proper—the city of Newcastle—is fine.

Winners need help, too

Big cities would be finer still if they were allowed to grow. Many are hemmed in by green belts, where development is all but banned. These push up property prices, putting them out of reach of many people from poorer places. If the green belts were done away with or (more realistically) thinned, some people’s house prices would drop but the nation as a whole would benefit.

Hasn’t America tried more-or-less letting cities grow and shrink naturally, and isn’t the result Detroit? Yes, but this is to focus on one side of the ledger. America has some shockingly ruined cities, but it also has shockingly successful, fast-growing ones, like Houston and Raleigh. And Detroit was brought down partly by the weight of pensions owed to its police and other public-sector workers. In British towns, pensions are either much better funded or are paid by the national treasury.

Place and community are important. But new communities can be created in growing suburbs fringing successful cities. It has happened before. The towns that are now declining were once growing quickly, denuding other settlements, often in the countryside. The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.


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