Sunday 1 April 2012
The real plight of Bradford
Newsnight put together a very rushed piece on Bradford. However, for me one fact stuck out. it is where the local councillor talks about the failure of the Government to get a new shopping centre built and this as a key reason why Labour lost.
It made me think - how is it a politicians fault that a shopping centre remains derelict?
Firstly there is the wider context of the recession, new shopping centres have been rare since the recession. Westfield has of course opened two huge sites in London at Stratford and Hammersmith - but that reflects a two speed market in the UK - fast in London and stopped elsewhere. Commercial property in 'Secondary' areas is suffering from zero demand, even today.
So when the recession stuck various anchor tenants pulled out and Westfield focused its attentions on areas where it would make a real return better. Now in late 2011 at least a plan for a new, smaller centre has been approved. in the meantime the Council has used state money to create a small park on the spare space. Bradford too has plenty of retail space in its town centre, so the demand for such a huge site must always have been in question, even in the bubbly days of 2006.
But why it is so unappealing to open in Bradford as compared to Stratford? There are 6% of unemployed people claiming benefits, so worse than the UK average but not terrible. However 15% of people are on some kind of benefits and nearly 25% of households are workless. Also at £1725 a month average earnings are low for the region and the UK - no wonder Westfield did not prioritise Bradford. 26% of jobs are Public Sector in the Labour heartland and only 47.6% of jobs are in the private sector - i.e. benefits or public sector is over 50% of 'work' income in the City.
So on economic grounds, it seems hard to blame the Council for Westfield's delays. But how did the economy deteriorate to such as poor state. Immigration and integration are a key problem - there are schools with a tiny amounts of native speakers. One can understand why unemployment and worklessness is high if so few of the population are able to work in an English speaking environment. Or indeed for companies to want to invest in an area with such a poorly skilled workforce, immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh may well want to be hard working and loyal employees, but with no skills apart from foreign language it is hard to invest in them.
Now of course, in many ways this is the Government's fault, the Labour Government's and in a sense it is they who have paid - albeit through a route they least expected of a more extreme left-wing party coming to take over from them.
There will be solutions to this mess such as to invest in education and slow immigration to give the town a chance to catch-up - yet neither of these will be high of Galloway's divisive agenda.