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Your editorial (Economics lessons from Bradford West, 2 April) should be a wake-up call for Labour’s frontbench to get its act together on regional policy. Following the coalition’s destruction of the regional development agencies (RDAs) there is little if any strategic intervention in regional economies. The odd sweetie thrown here and there (Glaxo, Nissan) will do little to stop the accelerating decline of the north’s economy. The new high-speed line will not reach Manchester or Leeds until 2033 at the earliest, and in the meantime we have a rail network that is creaking, with life-expired trains.
The missing element in your editorial is the need for a strategic â€“ and accountable â€“ “guiding hand” which can direct regional development. The former RDAs suffered from a lack of democratic accountability, but a new approach to the regions should have elected regional assemblies at their core. The north needs the sort of powers that London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have if we are not to become even more of a backwater. I doubt we will get that from the coalition, for whom “region” seems to have become a dirty word. But as we approach the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Independent Labour party in Bradford, Labour should reassess its approach to the English regions, and develop a radical policy for devolution.
Prof Paul Salveson
General secretary, The Hannah Mitchell Foundation
â€¢â€ˆLarry Elliott’s analysis (2 April) is spot-on: Britain’s foremost carpetbagger’s win in Bradford West is down to poverty in the most centralised country in the western world. Only a Whitehall-knows-best system could say that the Cornish cannot have a regional assembly when Luxembourg has layers of local government.
First-past-the-post elections monopolise what local power is left and suppress diversity â€“ unlike Scotland, which now uses the single transferable vote in its local elections. Add to this a lack of effective regional government â€“ even in Greater London, with only 25 assembly members â€“ plus the need for the rest of England to have at least a dozen regional assemblies, and no wonder the south-east has become economically overheated and is running out of water.
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
â€¢â€ˆA visitor to depressed northern areas â€“ Bradford, Merseyside, Teesside, Humberside, Tyneside â€“ will find plenty of infrastructure. It is not clear why yet more motorways, industrial estates and retail parks should trigger the growth which those that are already there, in all their tatty ugliness, have failed to.
Larry Elliott is right â€“ top-down planning, bread and circuses in the form of HS2 etc is not the answer. I think I had an inkling why regeneration doesn’t happen nearly 40 years ago, when coal was discovered at Selby. I had recently returned from Zambia’s copper belt. There, a whole community of contractors and service providers was sustained by the local mines. Here, the National Coal Board handed out the contracts to national companies: all the locals got was pitheads, pollution and some jobs down the pit. Now the pitheads are museums, we are clearing up the pollution and the jobs are gone. We need more devolved debate and decision-making to end the London stitch-up.
â€¢â€ˆThe next few months are likely to be the most interesting of times in English politics. Established politicians and commentators are still struggling to explain and come to terms with George Galloway’s and Respect’s stunning win in Bradford West (Muslims must step outside this anti-war comfort zone, 2 April). Local elections for councils and the Greater London authority in May, and likely mayoral and police chief elections outside London a few months later, will see a range of political forces to the left of Labour seeking to gain the ear of working people. Those winning the most impressive votes and successes could go on to gain seats at the next general election â€“ even holding the balance of power. A rainbow coalition of the left could develop, offering an alternative of jobs, housing and peace to the mantra of austerity, redundancy and closures.
Election agent, People Before Profit
â€¢â€ˆThe result in Bradford West was a clear reminder to the Labour frontbench that there are political consequences of taking the north for granted. The people of the north deserve (and demand) more than a Labour party preoccupied by voters in London and the south-east.
Too much of what Labour did deliver for the north (tax credits, public sector jobs, investment in health and education) is being dismantled far too easily and quickly by the coalition government. The inequality and poor economic performance that these advances masked have quickly returned to the fore.
While the much smaller populations of Wales and Scotland have governments acting as something of a bulwark against the disastrous economic policies of Westminster, the 16 million people of the north are left largely defenceless.
Labour needs to set out a clear vision for the north to ensure that improvements to people’s lives in the future are sustainable and can’t be so readily destroyed by incoming Conservative governments. A democratically elected parliament for the north, or each of the three regions of the north, would act as a bulwark against cuts and high unemployment while also allowing the region to shape its own future, building sustainable economic advances.
â€¢â€ˆYour editorial (Economics lessons from Bradford West, 2 April) correctly pinpointed the need for “smart state intervention” to economically rebalance the economy and so rejuvenate the UK’s declining regions. Such an approach will need concrete policies and sources of funding to generate the vast number of jobs across a broad range of skills so desperately needed in the towns and cities where the majority live. The Green New Deal group has campaigned since before the credit crunch for a massive country-wide investment programme to make all buildings energy-tight and where feasible powered by renewables such as solar PV. In the economically vulnerable region of the West Midlands, Birmingham is already putting in place a Â£100m programme to do just that in 15,000 homes in the city.
However, to fund such a programme across the nation a “smart state” should make use of historically low interest rates to set the e-printing presses running for yet more quantitative easing â€“ but this time to be invested directly in such job-generating schemes. UK pension funds could also be enlisted were the government to issue 50-year index-linked bonds that the sector seeks and use the funds to employ people in all the declining regions. This would of course need to go far beyond saving energy to encompass for example maximising recycling and reuse and minimising waste, building low-income homes on brownfield sites and regenerating regional transport infrastructure to benefit local economic activity, rather than shaving tens of minutes off intercity journeys. Only such a “look to the local” emphasis will result in the labour-intensive economic rejuvenation so desperately needed by the Bradford Wests of this country.
Convenor, Green New Deal Group