Tag Archives: regeneration

Will Tim Leunig be burnt at the stake in Liverpool city centre tomorrow?

For those of you who missed it this morning, here is a quote from today’s Thought for the Day by The Rt Rev. James Jones:

Tomorrow Daniel enters the Lion’s Den up here in Liverpool. The author of the report that recommends ‘ the rolling up’ of the regeneration strategies of the Northern cities is coming to the Anglican Cathedral to face the music! The Dean’s arranged for him to debate with the city’s leaders and academics. Dr Tim Leunig of the Policy Exchange is an economic historian with radical views. As well as questioning the value of regeneration schemes he proposes a shift of the population ‘encouraging significant numbers of people to move , to London and the South East’

Did I hear a groan from those grid locked in traffic within the M25 doughnut? Well, there’s some serious stuff in this paper, even though some of the conclusions will raise hackles in the south and the north. Reading the report in the light of the last two weeks certainly widens the eyes not least its appeal to market forces as a panacea for our urban problems. Whatever else is going on at the moment it’s surely about the limits of the market to guarantee the common good. And although communities need markets, they also need other interventions that secure the peace and safety of the realm. That’s what these urban initiatives are all about.

Now, I have my criticisms of Tim’s presentational style and fear that the heat generated from the introduction of his Policy Exchange pamphlet obscured the light to be found in the content. But I would baulk at misrepresenting his proposals in this way.

Fundamentally, the idea was to take all the money being spent on regeneration currently and hand it over to local authorities to spend as they see fit. This isn’t even mentioned in Jones’ caricature, for all his stoking the fire with talk about entering the lion’s den. Instead Tim is being held up as an advocate of prescribing “market forces as a panacea for our urban problems” – which is utter bilge. In what way is proposing to spend billions of pounds of regeneration budgets differently count as leaving things to market forces?

Is it too much to ask the Bishop of Liverpool to have read a pamphlet which he then denounces on the radio? Worse, not only is it insinuated that Tim has incurred the wrath of God, but he apparently is flying in the face of St Tracey of Emin (no, I didn’t realise she’d been canonised either).

In other news, a new campaign has been launched to secure the official pardons of the thousands of people who were burnt at the stake for witchcraft by populist religious bigots in the 18th century. Not that there is a connection at all, oh no.

Is it okay to hate Tim Leunig?

Burning a dummy in effigy
Guardian Readers burn Tim Leunig in effigy.

Press, politico and blog reaction to the Policy Exchange’s Cities Unlimited report has been quite extraordinary. The Guardian today was particularly wretched, producing a big special article extolling the North (if you really think it’s so great, why did you leave Manchester then?) and quoting David Cameron extensively (audio here):

“This report is rubbish from start to finish,” he said, repeating the charge four times in two minutes. “I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy.” Referring to the report’s co-author Tim Leunig, he added: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better.”

Being part of a multi-media network these days, the paper has been prominently advertising Chris Grayling’s rebuttal of the report on Comment is Free (“I’m not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website”) while failing to mention that Tim Leunig himself has an article giving his side of the story. To compound things, the paper has issued a handy extract of the report providing all the “damning quotes” while failing to mention its actual proposals or even provide a link to the report.

On the blogosphere, Leunig is variously described as a “twat” and a “fucking idiot.” Recess Monkey has been far more restrained, merely posting a mugshot of who presumably all right thinking socialists should direct their Daily Hate towards. Finally, noticing that no-one in the media appear to have noticed that Leunig was the central party’s golden boy 12 months ago (he being of the Community Land Auction idea), the Lib Dem press office have issued a standard press release so all local parties can join in with the fun (I’m surprised that Tom Papworth is moaning about this though; doesn’t he have some Focus leaflets to deliver?). But just to show what a classy act we really are, the party has declined to issue a national press release. I’m sure those of us working in public policy are now really reassured that the party will stand by us when the chips are down.

What is most remarkable is that in the last 24 hours since it has been available, none of these people appear to have bothered to read the actual report. Jonathan Calder has, and it is hard to fault his analysis:

David Cameron has called Cities Unlimited “insane”. My own reaction on reading it is quite different. While I like the idea of selling empty property cheaply to its neighbours and local control of development funds, it seems to me to be based on two quasi-Marxist assumptions. They are:

  • contempt for piecemeal reform;
  • the belief that it is the state’s role to forecast how society and the economy will develop and then expedite that development.

The fact is, Leunig and James Swaffield do bear some responsibility for the mess they have found themselves in. Fundamentally, they appear to not be able to make their minds up. On the one hand, most of the prescriptions of their report are excellent. But their analysis of the situation is at the height of economistic hubris. No-one can deny that northern towns such as Manchester and Newcastle have declined since the height of the industrial revolution and have struggled to recover since, but how does that inform us about the future? No-one can deny that the south east has been beneficiary of the post-industrial era, but how does that lead one to conclude that it will remain the case over the next 20-50 years? Can you really measure success and failure in such simplistic economic terms (I for one would move back to Manchester in a heartbeat if I thought I could have a similar career to the one I have here in London; I can’t stand the Capital)? Fundamentally, how can you claim to believe in devolution and reject ideas of a command economy while proposing to plan UK-wide demographics down to the last neighbourhood?

It isn’t really the north that should be upset by this report, it is the good burghers of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire whose countryside Leunig and Swaffield are proposing to tarmac over. Yet this is based on the assumption that in a post-industrial information age, location will remain as important as it was 100 years ago. My ill-informed analysis is different: the south east has boomed while the north has wilted because that is where the UK’s knowledge economy has been focussed. Invest in a knowledge economy up north and there is no reason why we can’t see benefits across the country. From reading the report, I would expect Leunig and Swaffield to agree with that, at least up to an extent, so why preface their work with the counsel of despair which has caused them so much heat over the past 24 hours?

Back to the media reaction though, I have to wonder if this whole row has been engineered by the Policy Exchange deliberately. The Smith Institute has just had an uncomfortable year with the Charity Commission breathing down its neck. The Policy Exchange must know that its intimate, revolving door relationship with the Conservatives is likely to come under scrutiny sooner or later. So, why not engineer a row with the Tories? And use a Lib Dem as the patsy to boot?

Earlier this year, there was a suggestion that Nick Clegg’s Policy Exchange speech had been leaked to David Cameron thus allowing the Conservative leader to undermine his rival by making a strikingly similar speech 24 hours earlier. Charity Commission investigation or not, if you are a Lib Dem you would be well advised to only sup with the Policy Exchange with a very long spoon.

Tim Leunig: “unworkable, unreasonable and perhaps plain barmy”? (UPDATE)

The Guardian is getting itself into a lather attacking the “Tories’ favourite thinktank” for suggesting that Northern towns are failures. What they don’t report is that the pamphlet in question is co-written by the Lib Dems’ own Tim Leunig.

The summary of the pamphlet does indeed sound quite provocative. The idea that people should simply follow the money and that national governments shouldn’t examine why northern towns have failed to get themselves out of a decades-long economic slump and should instead encourage people to follow the money down south seems entirely unworkable. Where are all these northern incomers to London, Cambridge and Oxford supposed to live for one thing? Isn’t the south under enough pressure as it is at the moment? And somehow I suspect that paying people from the north to move south while southerners themselves are priced out of their neighbourhoods is likely to go down like a bucket of cold sick. But I will suspend my judgement until I read what they are actually proposing rather than the Guardian spin.

UPDATE: I’ve just read the exec summary of this report and the Guardian spin is balls. I’m not necessarily saying I agree with all of it, but much of it is very welcome. Will blog more later.

Bonding in Barnet

From the FT today:

A bond to raise up to £360m for transport, schools and other local services will be proposed by a north london borough as it looks for new ways to raise money.

The “Barnet bond” would provide as much as half the £733m the London suburb says it needs to improve its infrastructure to cope with expected housing growth over the next 10 years.

The bond would be financed by earmarking extra income created by expanding housing stock, including higher council tax and business rate receipts. The borough also says it could raise money from the expansion of BrentCross shopping centre, with a £1 a day levy on eachparking space among the options.

Other sources couldin-clude additional stamp duty revenues from the sale of new homes in the borough, which currently go straight to the exchequer. Another £6m could be raised by Barnet levying a 3p supplementary business rate, one of the proposals made by Sir Mich-ael Lyons in his report on local government, which the government is considering.

The Treasury and the Communities and Local Government department have been involved in discussions, though neither has yet given the go-ahead for the necessary changes. However, Barnet says no legislation is needed for some of its proposals, such as new charges and earmarking additional council tax receipts.

“We’re trying to show that there are options to make this model of local financing work,” said Leo Boland, the council’s chief executive. “What we end up with may be quite different, but there are significant sources of money to pay for infrastructure improvements.”

Barnet expects its population to rise by 30,000-40,000 over the next 10 years as developers build new homes for people working in the City and West End. As a relatively wealthy borough, it cannot rely on grants from central government.

A report by PwC, the professional services firm, proposes creating an arms-length local growth fund to collect the additional revenues giving the necessary security to borrow the money upfront. “Most boroughs are finding the re-sources are not there for the infrastructure they need to build,” said Ray Mills of PwC. “This approach aims to capture the value that would be generated by growth to fund that growth itself.”

It’s an interesting idea but what stood out for me was the fact that they feel they could only raise half the neccessary amount in this way. “Only half?!” you might say incredulously, but these bonds will only be issued against expected increases in business rates and council tax revenue. If we had a decent system of value capture in this country, just think how much more inward investment we could attract through such schemes.

As it is, a wealthy area like Barnet probably can find the remaining £300m+ from somewhere, but what about a Hackney or a Haringey, who they are in direct competition here? Why should such areas have to depend on centralised government handouts for development?

I’m nearly finished reading Tony Vickers’ new book, Location Matters, which explores precisely this problem with regeneration. When I finish, I’ll be reviewing it here.