Inequalities - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 30 November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 3:39, 30 November 2017

Wakefield, forgive me—I have only been there once. It is an absolutely brilliant place, and what an effect it is having on the community. Then, in Margate, there is the way in which the new Turner gallery has helped create a totally new kind of economy, with a 37% to 47% increase in the number of people going down on the train to Margate. There are similar figures for those going up to Wakefield. We need these cultural shifts to help us grow—for instance, the stuff that is happening in Gateshead—as they draw people from other places not just into the UK but further on.

Look at the effect on Edinburgh. I used to live there when it was a poor little place, but an enormous wealth of opportunities has been created by the Edinburgh festival. This has happened in my lifetime: 50 years ago, when I was sleeping rough in Edinburgh, you could not get a penny off anybody, but now you can live quite comfortably on the streets, and probably put a bit away for a bad day. These kind of considerations need to be there to address the interest that we have to show in the fact that we have a very lumpy and strangely formed economy.

When I was the printer for the Victorian Society, I took a great interest in looking into British society. By 1851, for instance, Britain had lost its role as the workshop of the world and was becoming the sweat-shop of the world. Over 100 years later, Margaret Thatcher—the late Baroness Thatcher—closed down all these industries and added to the major problems that we have in this very lumpy economy. I do not know that she had an awful lot of choice, because most of those industries had been on government subsidy since the First World War. The car industry was the only new industry.

We have a very weird way of investing in the future. When we have a situation in Britain where the average bank lends 87% of its money for the buying and selling of property, what is left for the development of new industry? What is left for the development of new educational superstructures and all those things? I was very struck by the wonderful term that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, used when he said it was time for a British Marshall plan. I believe that we need to dig deep and find out a way of doing this. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, in that I have been looking at all these plans over the years and thinking, “When are they actually going to stop talking about it and deliver it?”. We need to do something very profound.

I am doing something quite interesting called social mapping. We are going to cities, towns and villages and finding out who is there, who is doing what and what organisations are there. I can tell your Lordships there is one city that is desperate for help and change. It has 200 different providers who provide social businesses, work and all sorts of things, and they do not even know each other or talk each other. So we are brokering a relationship between them. Why can we not have communities, like in Carlisle, where there are at least 100 providers in the community providing for the well-being of that community? Why can they not start working together? Why can they not start doing things such as sharing each other’s facilities? Why can they not do that?

I believe very strongly that one of the ways that we can overcome many of the problems that we have with this very lumpy economy is to involve the community in bringing about changes. We cannot rely on government. Governments think in big strategies, and Governments and Ministers change. I remember that when I was dealing with the DWP at the time when the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, was in office, I dealt with four, five or six different Ministers over a period of about eight years. There is this weird situation where Governments change. However, if we go back to the community and start putting the community together and trying to broker social change, we will be able to build on the generosity, local opportunity and local talent that exists. So I would say that if the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, wants to do something in Carlisle, he wants to find out who is there, and neither the local authority nor national government will know. It is only by going back to the community that we can bring about those changes.