Friday, 23 September 2011

Well, I 'heart' Manchester too…

The ‘I Y Manchester’ logo is everywhere you look in Manchester City Centre - posters, bus stops, bags, clothing, mugs, even baby-grows.

The campaign, on the surface, is a call for unity after the shocking riots of August 9th, a call for the community spirit that led100’s of people to help with the clean-up the morning after.

The notion was great but there is something wrong.

The under-current of the campaign is sour, with a proportion of the city irritated and aggrieved by it.

There are a few of reasons for this but one of the most prominent is the naked attempt to get the local population to spend money, to the backdrop of unprecedented cuts to local services and an increasingly poor economic environment.

The excellent article ‘I YCorporate Manchester’, in the Manchester Mule points out that “with an initial 20 per cent drop in visitors to the centre the Saturday after the disturbances, [Richard] Leese told businesses he needed their help in “getting the message out that Manchester is open for business as usual””.

Of the campaign, Manchester City Council’s Head of Communications Mark Lawrence wrote “ There are a number of events and initiatives going on in the city to encourage people to come into the centre and make the most of the shops, restaurants and bars and show their love for Manchester ”. This was supported by free parking, free tram transport, and ‘spectacular’ outdoor events (including a ‘Manchester Moment’).

Running alongside ‘IYManchester’ has been the lower profile, ‘Shop a Looter’ campaign by the Greater Manchester Police, aimed at tracking down the individuals involved in the rioting.

Following the government's lead, the Council took a tough stance with the rioters, the legal system intent on heavily prosecuting those involved, those in council property threatened with eviction and bans from the city centre.

The Council’s angry tone in response to the riots not only condemned the law breakers in strong terms, it constructed in new terms, the idea of the ‘real’ and the ‘true’ Mancunian.

Pat Karney, council spokesman spoke several times in the absence of Council Leader Richard Leese, saying “We want to send out a strong message that Manchester’s business community is standing together and those that disrespect our city are not welcome and will not be allowed to enjoy it” and in an interview references ‘normal working people’ and ‘thuggish kids’.

There has been no strong lead from the Council on the causes of the riots in Manchester and what it aims to do about it.

Whether or not you are ‘True/Real Manc’ or not, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, how you see yourself described or find yourself defined depends on your social and financial situation.

The Council’s decision to lay off thousands of its staff at the beginning of the year was a blow to the city.

The Mule article states ‘Unemployment in the North West rose 13 per cent in the last three months’, with the source of that information also stating that this increase ‘compared with 1.8 per cent nationally’.

The North West, including Manchester, is being hit hard on the employment front.

In addition, cuts to funding from the Coalition government forced the Council to make controversial decisions about its staffing and services. It moved to cut 2000 staff, and withdrew funding to services like advice centres, youth services and Sure Start. Those moves, coupled with cuts to national support programmes (Job Centres, Connexions, NHS etc) have severely eroded the social safety net for the unemployed, those on low income and those who expect to be made redundant in the coming year.

This is important as Manchester already has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country (4th most deprived). The city constantly features in these national indices.

All this indicates that many more people in Manchester are moving towards low income and the poverty line than is publicly admitted.

In light of this however Manchester City Council priorities seem misplaced. In fact it makes great play of the investment coming into the city with the development of Eastlands football complex, the renovation of the Town Hall, its new First Street offices and the NOMA development, while unapologetically cutting back on support services (which not all Councils have done). Council Leader Richard Leese, when asked by MULE editor Richard Goulding whether it would be more sensible to spend money on services like Sure Start and social services rather than continue investment in large regeneration projects he replied: “If you want to create Manchester as the welfare capital of the world that’s a good route to go down.” This is an amazing stance given that Manchester is currently the child poverty capital of England.

The council is unintentionally bringing these differences to the fore with its ‘I Y Manchester’ campaign.

Maybe it is no coincidence that a significant proportion of those arrested in the riots come from areas of high deprivation. A significant number of those arrested were young people, whose avenues for employment, further education and higher education are being curtailed at the same time as their support services.

As the numbers of unemployed grow in Manchester, and the services that normally support those in need dwindle, the implied line that defines who are ‘good and bad’ Mancunians will get closer for a lot of people.

Commenting on these issues Hulme activist Deyika Nzeribe said “The ‘I Y Manchester’ campaign has been a huge disappointment. Instead of using all that energy to pull the city together, to support the people, defend services and yes, support business, it has just been used to encouraging people to shop. And its not a lack of leadership from the Council, they just care more for its businesses and buildings than its citizens. They act and think like 1980s Tories these days.

Manchester isn’t just a place, it’s a people. We pull together. Mancunian. Union isn’t in the name but it should be.

I seriously wonder how much this ‘I Y ’ operation has cost.

And as for ‘shop a looter’, that campaign really gets under my skin. They should have found a way of calling for information on and the arrest of looters without using a guy in a ‘hoodie’. It just adds to the demonization of our young people. They are our young people. Whoever thought of that campaign, whoever signed off on it, is causing bad feeling on top of a bad situation. They should re-do it or get rid of it.”

1 comment:

  1. I have noticed that one of the 'new' developments in the Green Quarter is still empty after more than two years on the market. We still have empty office blocks on Birley Fields and elsewhere. I have also notice rents and house prices are beginning to drop as people realise, Leese's promised land is a myth. Time is long over due for Leese (The Mansfield Maniac) to go.