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Life in a Northern Town
August 14, 2008 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Policy Exchange, the same British conservative think tank who brought you reports such as the tastefully titled The Hijacking of British Islam (previously), have released a new report, Cities Limited (pdf), which states that the only solution for people living in the North of Britain - where unemployment and poverty are high - is to abandon their homes and move south. Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, minced no words in his response: "This report is rubbish from start to finish. I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy. I gather he's off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better." Conservative bloggers have been very quick to distance themselves from the report, some going as far as to blame it on Liberal Democrats. Co-author of the report, Tim Leunig, a lecturer in economic history at the London School of Economics, defends his position.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
that the only solution for people living in the North of Britain - where unemployment and poverty are high - is to abandon their homes and move south... David Cameron, minced no words in his response: "This report is rubbish from start to finish. I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy. I gather he's off to Australia

Look across the ocean Mr. Cameron, before you open your trap. The American south with Atlanta as its capital - a sterile city which has none of the draw of London - has been a magnet for economic refugees from the North for two decades. Why wouldn't a similar rust belt migration happen in Britain?
posted by three blind mice at 1:43 PM on August 14, 2008


I just read an entertaining blog piece about this. Also, here's another take on the "blame the Liberals" aspect.

Let it be noted that they deserve everything they get, though.
posted by imperium at 1:57 PM on August 14, 2008


Cities Limited PDF link is broken.

I quite liked the Daily Mash take.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cities Limited PDF link is broken.

Ah, so it is. Must've copied that wrong. Here's the fixed link.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:06 PM on August 14, 2008


Read the report. Basically, the economic locus of Britain has moved south as ties with Europe have strengthened and the northern industrial-based economic growth has slowed or stagnated. Britain's urban revitalization policies have not worked. People in the north could move to areas in the south where there are more jobs and better jobs. Why is that so crazy?

The Brits would really hate that Billy Joel Allentown song.
posted by Slap Factory at 2:14 PM on August 14, 2008


Why is that so crazy?

Because people would prefer it not to be true.
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2008


This is genius:

But where to build all these houses in London? One example that the report's authors give is that the Post Office could sell all of its sorting offices in London and develop them for housing. The report goes on, 'Mail would then be collected in London, taken to (say) Leicester by train, sorted in Leicester, and returned to London on the first train the following morning for onward delivery.'

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:24 PM on August 14, 2008


So I guess that solves the mystery of where the “crazy” tag comes from – it refers to all that bits stuck between the bits that were stating the obvious.
posted by Artw at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2008


Read the report. Basically, the economic locus of Britain has moved south as ties with Europe have strengthened and the northern industrial-based economic growth has slowed or stagnated. Britain's urban revitalization policies have not worked. People in the north could move to areas in the south where there are more jobs and better jobs. Why is that so crazy?

But that is what happens. People from the north move south all the time. They move to London looking for work, and then, when they reach a certain age, they get the hell out of dodge. I live in London and rarely meet anyone who was actually born here.

The point is that London can't cope with this level of sustained economic migration, be it from the north of England or from the rest of the world. It's already bursting at the seams and the point of urban regeneration outside of London is to create more opportunities there. Regeneration seems to have been fairly successful in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester.

Finally, part of the reason most of the good jobs remain in London is precisely because of the type of urban regeneration that this report seems to criticise. Vast areas of London have been redeveloped, with the Olympics promising a whole lot more. Successive governments have spent more on London than anywhere else in Britain. The rest of the country could use some love too now and again.
posted by MrMustard at 2:29 PM on August 14, 2008


See also my new report “It’s grim oop north – werewolf cull required”.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why is that so crazy?
Because southern cities like Oxford and Cambridge are already overcrowded and gridlocked for much of the day. It would surely be better to analyse why the jobs are all in the South, and then create similar conditions in the North. Airports and efficient rail links might be a good start. Most of the North would be within 2 hours of London if the railways were any good, and 'proximity to Heathrow' needn't be such a major factor if Heathrow's expansion were capped and Manchester allowed to grow instead.
posted by nowonmai at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Conservatives of any stripe attempting to come up with new ideas is usually a source of amusement - or horror.
posted by Xoebe at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Talent flows to the Metropolis for higher-tier service sector (marketing, advertising, creative, government, finance, law, etc etc) while the hinterlands scratch out wealth in their respective roles in the Primary Sector of the economy.

Eg. New York's central role in providing media and financial services, with some off-loading to regional centers like Chicago, SF, and LA.

Interesting dynamic that's been with us since at least William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech of 1896:
There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.
posted by yort at 2:50 PM on August 14, 2008


Xoebe writes "Conservatives of any stripe attempting to come up with new ideas is usually a source of amusement - or horror."

New idea? It's just "Transportation Beyond the Seas", without seas or Australia. I say, send the yobs to the Falklands.
posted by orthogonality at 2:51 PM on August 14, 2008


I gather he's off to Australia

Please no.
posted by nudar at 3:16 PM on August 14, 2008



This is also bizarre because from what I've seen, visiting Liverpool at least, for the last 10 years or so, it is booming. When I first visited there, it was truly the dark Satanic mills (I know, that's Manchester) and the dying abandoned factories and everyone talking about unemployment.

But you can't walk through Liverpool's centre city now without dodging construction sites-- I've rarely seen so many cranes in one place. And property prices are insane-- with the exchange rate, apartments are as expensive as in Manhattan (though you get a little more space for the price). Now more recently, property prices have begun to come down, the year of Liverpool's rein as "European City of Culture" is coming to an end and I'm sure the end of the housing boom will hurt. However, it seems completely preposterous to ignore the massive economic development that has taken place there in recent years.

When I started visiting there, it truly did seem like a dying city-- but that's just not the case now. I wouldn't have believed it possible for it to change so much back then.
posted by Maias at 3:22 PM on August 14, 2008


Eh? Why is suggesting that people want to and should move to London and other cities in the South anything at all like transportation? Perhaps I'm missing a very sophisticated joke.

The bit I don't understand about this is that while Leunig says that we have to accept that geography matters the report doesn't really explain why geography should matter for finance in the 21st century in the same way that it did for the cotton industry in Lancashire in the 18th/19th. Cotton settled in the Northwest because the raw material entered the country via Liverpool and there was a ready migrant workforce from Ireland, and also easily available water courses (and later coal) to turn the mills. The report states as fact that JP Morgan couldn't relocate its offices to Blackburn, but I've seen dafter things tried. Britain is not so big that if an employer with cachet wanted to move itself away from London it couldn't bring a workforce with it, is it?
posted by calico at 3:49 PM on August 14, 2008


It's a nonsense report.

I live and work in a small northern town. I work in one of those dark satanic mills. A place that's been rejuvenated and now acts as a classy looking office park. I share the complex with the NHS, the VAT, a major building society and countless small organisations.

Although I get paid less than I would in London, I have a much higher standard of living. The small size of the town and the excellent local bus and rail network means that my monthly travel expenses rarely exceed £45 a month. My house costs about £260.00 a month. I can buy a pint of bitter for £1.60. Compare that to anyone living in London, Oxford or Cambridge and you'll see how little you need to be paid to earn an equivalent southern wage.

I live less than an hours train ride from two major cities. Most things you can buy or experience in the south are available to me. Usually for less money. People are less stressed & yes - because of that they are nicer.

I'm a twenty minute walk away from the countryside. Crime is low. My commute to work takes 30 minutes. Of walking.

There are a few issues. A company near me is an agent for actors and the like and they tend to lose clients to London companies due to geography. We've lost deals because of the same. Television ignores my little corner of the world in favour of shows about London. People invariably tell me that where I live is "grim". There are areas that could do with being revitalised. There are areas which have been devastated by the national move towards a service driven economy. There are more jobs available in the South.

But it's great. Where I live is great. There's a running joke in the north that we don't tell anyone in the south how fantastic life up here is in case they all move up and spoil it for us. This report fits into that mindset, and to be honest - apart from the fact that it's a load of bollocks - I couldn't give a shit about it. Southerners can keep sneering as long as we get to keep smiling.
posted by seanyboy at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apparently shipping the Souths racist idiots to India is an option too.
posted by Artw at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2008


So, Liverpool invited the author of the report up to see the city. His reply:
"I'm a full-time lecturer," he said. "It's the time. I would love to be able to come and if Liverpool was next to London I'd do it like a shot.

"But it's a long way. And the last time I went on a Virgin Train it wasn't on time."
posted by bonaldi at 4:35 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


People - including the authors of the report - seem to be letting broad brush generalisations get in the way of evidence. In particular, people are comparing their mental images of the bits of London that they know (probably the prosperous middle class bits) with the bits of the north that they think they know (probably the really run down, racist and violent bits).

In fact - this is obvious - there is a lot more intra-regional inequality than inter-regional inequality, particularly if you strip out the odd effects of London's financial district and the thin layer of extremely high earners it creates.

Consider the Indices of Deprivation, a statistical tool that ranks areas on things like education, employment, income and so forth.

If you look at the smallest level of details (called an LSOA), the list appears to confirm the north/south divide - of the most deprived 10 LSOAs, Liverpool has four, Knowsley near Liverpool has two, Blackpool has two, Manchester has one and there's a rogue one in Clacton on Sea near London. Meanwhile, nine of the 10 least deprived LSOAs are rural areas in the London commuter belt - the tenth being a rural area south of Nottingham.

But if you step back and look at the issue on a local-authority-wide basis, rather than the tiny LSOAs, a much more regionally differentiated picture appears.

The top ten least deprived local authorities are perhaps not surprising: eight rural southern authorities, and two in the rural Midlands.

But the top ten most deprived local authorities are a bit more spread out. In order, they are:

Liverpool, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Manchester, Knowsley, Newham, Easington, Islington, Middlesbrough, Birmingham.

So, London 4, North-West 3, North-East 2, Midlands 1.

In fact, all the inner-London authorities are in the top half of the deprivation table, with most in the top 10%: Hackney 2nd (out of 354), Tower Hamlets 3rd, Newham 6th, Islington 8th, Haringey 18th, Lambeth 19th, Greenwich 24th, Southwark 26th, Lewisham 39th, Camden 57th, Hammersmith 59th, Westminster 72nd, Kensington and Chelsea 101st, and Wandsworth best placed at 144th.

Those streets aren't paved with gold.
posted by athenian at 5:49 PM on August 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


It astonishes me that anyone takes it seriously but since a few such people are here....

The suggestion is to take ten or twenty million people from the homes they live in, where there is at least reasonable infrastructure like water, electricity and roads; to take all those cities, worth probably a trillion dollars or so, and throw them into the garbage; and move the people into one of the more crowded areas in the world, the South of England an area where it's already almost impossible to get a decent place to live at a reasonable place, a place where the public transportation system just barely copes with the levels it already has.

Even if it were even remotely economically feasible, it also assumes that people are mindless automata who don't care if they are separated from their friends and family.

But I expect no less than raving insanity such as this from "conservatives".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:42 PM on August 14, 2008


"What? You mean the North isn't the smoking ruin we left it as?"
posted by Artw at 10:03 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Conservative bloggers have been very quick to distance themselves from the report.

I, too, distance myself quickly from this report.
posted by sour cream at 11:01 PM on August 14, 2008


People in England only think in terms of North and South because it costs about £10,000 to take the train. £100,000 if you don't book it in advance with a separate ticket for each leg of the journey and travel off-peak while promising to stand on one leg.
posted by srboisvert at 2:41 AM on August 15, 2008


"I'm a full-time lecturer," he said. "It's the time. I would love to be able to come and if Liverpool was next to London I'd do it like a shot. But it's a long way. And the last time I went on a Virgin Train it wasn't on time."

I'm betting he hasn't actually been north in a long time. A peculiarity common in many of the inhabitants of England's south-east is that they act as if getting to "The North" is a major expedition, that requires planning, perseverance and dogged determination, almost as the destination was some foreign country, shrouded in mystery, that could only be reached by a complex sequence of riverboats, mule-trains and balloon, your native guide straining to discern landmarks on a faded map.

Rather than a 2 hour train ride straight from Kings Cross. Or a flight from London airport, where you'll spend longer in the the departure lounge than you will in the air.
posted by outlier at 2:44 AM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've read the report, and my verdict is mixed -- I think it makes some very good points along with some very bad ones. (Note, by the way, that the link to the original report, above, only goes to the first part of the report. Most of the controversial stuff is in the third part, which you can find here.)

The report's starting-point is that urban regeneration policy over the last thirty years has been a failure and a colossal waste of money. This is depressing, but probably true. However you measure it -- household income; house prices; life expectancy; school results -- there is growing inequality. Put bluntly: the richer parts of Britain are getting richer, the poorer parts of Britain are getting poorer, and all the money poured into regeneration projects in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, et al, has done little or nothing to reverse this trend. It is a bleak conclusion.

The authors blame this failure on a misguided regeneration policy which they term 'structural' (as opposed to 'locational') regeneration -- i.e. the idea that the way to regenerate depressed urban areas is to encourage businesses to relocate there and to offer them big financial incentives for doing so. This fails, they say, because most businesses don't want to move and nor do their employees. (To read some of the press reports, you'd think the authors were advocating an 'on yer bike' policy -- mass migration of workers from Liverpool, Manchester, et al, to London and the South of England. In fact, they are making precisely the opposite point -- that people settled in one part of the country very often don't want to move elsewhere, and that urban policy has to take account of this.)

The rest of the report is devoted to asking what the alternative might be, and coming up with a range of answers, some good, some bad.

To take the bad suggestions first. (1) They propose a massive expansion of London suburbia, effectively swallowing up the whole of the Green Belt, which strikes me as very complacent about the problems of transport in and around London. (2) They propose a massive expansion of Oxford and Cambridge, building on the prosperity of the universities there, without considering the obvious alternative -- Liverpool, Manchester and many other cities have top-class research universities of their own; why not expand these instead of putting more resources into Oxbridge? (3) They use incredibly tactless and insensitive language about the northern cities -- e.g. talking about the need for 'palliative care' of these cities en route to inevitable death.

And the good suggestions? (1) They accept that it's not just a north/south divide -- in general their argument seems to be that the bigger cities are doing okay and it's the middle-sized cities that are getting badly hit. So on the whole -- though their language is a bit mixed -- their attitude to the big northern cities isn't just 'abandon ship', it's about finding ways to make these cities work better. (2) They argue for major investment in schools, and higher wages for teachers, in order to make the less-well-off suburbs more attractive places for middle-class professionals to live. This seems an excellent suggestion. (3) They argue for much greater devolution, to give local authorities much more control over how money is spent. There is a tinge of free-market idealism about this which comes across as a bit naive, but on the whole I think it's a good idea and chimes in with what Simon Jenkins has been arguing for years about the need to cut back central control and rebuild local democracy.
posted by verstegan at 3:09 AM on August 15, 2008


Having skimmed the report, I think they might have some good points in there but come to a conclusion I find to be pretty crazy. If there's such a big gulf between Oxbridge and London universities and the rest of the country, then I can't see that trying to build up the ones already at the top makes much sense. Similarly, the conclusion that Cambridge (pop. 100,000) is a town doing well so we should build 1 million houses there assumes that it will continue to be a good place to live once you increase the population by 1000%, and given it already has enormous traffic problems at the current population I'm not sure it would.

London has regular, fast train connections to the North, which I can't use to get anywhere from Cambridge unless I'm willing to pay extra for a ticket which lets me go through London.
posted by penguinliz at 3:15 AM on August 15, 2008


Penguinliz: "The report's starting-point is that urban regeneration policy over the last thirty years has been a failure and a colossal waste of money. This is depressing, but probably true. However you measure it -- household income; house prices; life expectancy; school results -- there is growing inequality."

It's more difficult to judge the success of neighbourhood renewal/urban regeneration than you might imagine. The baseline is that there are still poor areas, and that absolute inequality in the UK has increased. There are also some worrying trends on social mobility - particularly the way in which schooling seems not to act as a route out of poverty any more.

But there are also some big confounding factors. First, London's income skews the income distribution in the UK, and fluctuates with the fortunes of the market. If you strip away the financial services industry, the UK's wage distribution becomes much more equal, and moves into the European mainstream (we are currently roughly halfway between the US and the rest of Europe on inequality).

Second, there is an assortative effect of housing choice. Most of the poor areas are still poor because poor people still live there - but that doesn't mean it's the same poor people. A study by the University of Sheffield following individuals rather than areas through the neighbourhood renewal programme showed, IIRC, that NR had a positive effect on the lives of many of the people in the poor areas covered - but that when they got a job, they tended to move out of the area.

All of which isn't to say that there aren't big problems, but to follow the Tory line that nothing has ever worked so (whispered) why bother doing anything for the poor, is oversimplifying.
posted by athenian at 4:08 AM on August 15, 2008


Sorry, the last post should have been addressed at verstegan (sorry, penguinliz)
posted by athenian at 4:11 AM on August 15, 2008


"I'm a full-time lecturer," he said. "It's the time. I would love to be able to come..."

He must be a very conscientious lecturer, given that it's not term time.

The last I remember reading about it, the BBC is still intent on moving several departments up to Salford. A lot of companies who can't afford to pay the higher wages could follow suit and let their staff have a higher standard of living on the same wages.

One of the major problems with a report like this is that it assumes that everyone in the south is doing well, when the reality is that they are not. Cambridge is an affluent city, but it also has one of the largest private home rental sectors in the country because if you don't make comfortably over £30,000 a year there's no way you can afford to buy a house. That kind of money can buy you a decent lifestyle and your own home in parts of the north. Part of Cambridge's affluence derives from the fact that a lot of the lower paid workers live far outside the city itself, in cheaper areas. Increasing the population will merely mean that those workers are pushed further and further out of Cambridge, massively increasing the daily commute and travel expenses of the worst paid. What's not being said is that there are already problems enough and were it not for migrant workers, many of the lower paid jobs in Cambridge would be unfilled. As an example, a couple of months ago I left the house early one morning as the refuse collection was happening and stood for a moment listening to the entire crew talk to each other in Polish.

The short version: moving everyone to the south will not fix anything. All it will do it make life worse for many and compress the area within which the same divides still exist.

Related, from The Guardian: In Praise of the North.
posted by mandal at 4:22 AM on August 15, 2008


"But it's a long way. And the last time I went on a Virgin Train it wasn't on time."

Liverpool Lime Street is 2 hrs and 40 mins from Euston. I do the trip around once a week, on average, and it's very rare for the train to be late. The trains leave hourly and more often than not, it arrives slightly early.

He must be a very conscientious lecturer, given that it's not term time.

Given the strain involved in paying a London mortgage on a lecturers salary, my guess is that he simply can't afford the train fare.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:12 AM on August 16, 2008


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