What is it about the national press and Nottingham at the moment? Seems like we are fast becoming a barometer of England’s economic woes and hopes.
Firstly, on March 20th, Dragons’ Den presenter Evan Davis stitches together a ‘Budget Special’ for his day job, the Radio 4 Today Programme. He makes a few 10 mins trips in and out from the BBC roundabout presumably after a night at Jurys Inn on London Road, visiting the delayed waterfront development and the site of the defunct Eastside project. Interviews about innovation at BioCity and the creative industries are added and an interview with Jon Collins is edited in about private business prospects in City. “Judging from your face it’s quite a struggle”, Davis comments. (No Evan, he always looks like that). On the same day Channel 4 anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy spends an afternoon in a pub in Arnold “to see if George Osborne can smash the brains in of the zombie economy.”
Then two days ago we had ITV in St Ann’s in an attempt to find out the effect of the Bedroom Tax on residents where Housing Benefit will be cut for non-private rented houses with ‘unoccupied’ rooms. This is certainly a hot issue here and many council estates will be hit hard. Locally the Labour Party and its trotskyist supporters are riding on a nationally visible wave of anger about this Coalition government’s move to reduce benefits on social housing. Nottingham City Council have a petition against it with support of the voluntary sector, and the Trades Council have picked Lillian Greenwood MP for their Mayday podium after the disaster of expenses scandal Notts MP Alan Meale invited last year. Greenwood will no doubt spend much of her speech time on the Bedroom Tax. Using a typical legalistic route, the Council is aiming to reclassify all high rise flats as one bedroom, even ones with two, to stave off some of the pain, as the second room is usually tiny. Rooms that are smaller than 50 square feet (4.6 meters squared) will be considered as studies and not bedrooms.
Interest in the Nottingham economy may well have been piqued by the staggering figure of 1700 applicants for 8 jobs at the new Mapperley Costa Coffee which made the network press in February. Less visible in the national media has been the loss of 200 more jobs at Boots over the next two years, announced last week. Even less visible is the commercial and third sector use of workfare, with even a homeless charity like Framework getting unemployed people in for free from the Job Centre under a mandatory work scheme.
Nottingham and Notts are well placed for attention. The eight largest urban area in the UK with vast inequalities (10 year life expectancy difference between neighbourhoods) and a Labour Council, and a Tory run County with deprivation in many areas presided over by the aptly named Kay Cutts together with a high profile minister and media-monster in Broxtowe, Anna Soubry MP, who is intimately tied to the NHS reforms which have just begun to take effect in full. The stage seems set for a lot more national media focus.
There will be surely be similar stories in other cities but for now the eye of the media is gazing on ours like Tolkein’s Sauron.
For our part, anarchists in Nottingham AF group will continue to be involved in social struggles over the austerity measures being meted out, whilst not being fooled by moves from the local Labour Party and TUC apologists or City Council to try and make themselves look kinder than the Tories. Faced with angrier protests about Bedroom Tax, other councils are saying they won’t evict anyone for rent arrears (Brighton) or say this will be a ‘last resort’ (Hull). On the spectrum of outright implementation through to statements of opposition to cuts, NCC still look about as radical as they did when they went down to parliament a couple of years ago along with Greenwood to lobby Eric Pickles, while Graham Chapman came to a Notts Save Our Services meeting to rid us of any notion that the council might defy the government by setting a “needs-based” budget.
As of December 2012 Collins was “seeking an urgent meeting with government minister Eric Pickles” in response to a “looming crisis” in core cities like Nottingham. This makes you wonder about his definition of urgent and looming when you consider the capitalist bubble burst in 2008 when Gordon Brown was holding the reigns. It was not long after that the City got stung to the tune of £41.6 million from its Icelandic ‘investments’ of which a quarter still remains unrecouped in spite of Labour’s volley back at Iceland branding it a “terrorist state” (a country that the British state could be prepared to wage war upon if it didn’t get real with ‘our’ money?). On the other side of the balance sheet, the City is poised to implement the Coalition government’s Council Tax changes that will cut benefit for many people of working age who depend on it.