A while ago, I wrote to some of Bradford’s politicians, both councilors and MPs, saying how much I loved Bradford and how disappointed I was that, it seems to me, progress has not been made in key areas since Lord Ouseley’s report at the time of the Bradford riots, nor since the Joseph Rowntree report wrote a damning report last year.
I’ve had a number of replies and am catching up on publishing posts.
This one is about the reply I got from Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, who sits on the Executive with the portfolio for Employment, Skills and Culture.
Cllr Hinchcliffe, I’ve found, is a hardworking, personable public servant who has a real desire to improve Bradford and make it better. Whilst I’ll try to remain objective, conversations with her on Twitter will, I’m sure, cloud my judgment and I’ll be happy if taken to task about this in the comments section below.
Her reply to my email begins with a personal call to arms, describing how she has begun her role with a self-designed induction in which she has sought out and listened to artists and arts groups & organisations from across the district. She talks of these artists’ passion and pride in the district, and their love of an area which offers so much culturally and in its diversity that other cities and metropolitan districts simply can’t compete.
She talks of a vision in which the council is a conduit for cultural fare, not necessarily the ones who commission work, but a body which can support others to bring their music, art, dance or whatever to the public. As she puts it, “DIY Culture”. To me, it seems that she wants to build bridges with artists and organisations rather than being an overlord removed from other organisations’ doings. In this I think she is right: the council must be there to work with people rather than impose, however positive, their will on others. In this way, Bradfordians will get more for less. Is she doing well? Two, at least partially, negative responses to this come from the excellent Bradfordia blog and Fabric Bradford’s Gideon Seymour, and both relate to the Garden of Light in Bradford’s wonderful City Park. Bradfordia gives a list of how we could’ve taken Garden of Light and run with it, having tie-ins with pubs and restaurants, having installations across the city, lighting up some empty buildings arund the city, and a lot more. Gideon Seymour wonders if commissions for art in the city and district should go to Bradfordians – could a Bradford artist have done as well as T.I.L.T.? Should the money have been offered to a Bradford artist first before asking for a foreign, although internationally acclaimed, artist?
Personally, I couldn’t agree more with Bradfordia – and, in talking with her, I expect Cllr Hinchcliffe feels the same, at least in part. The Garden of Light, I hope, will have shown her and others that Bradford is open for culture, so let’s get some business in there. It was hugely popular with thousands of extra visitors going into the city to see it and then, to be honest, a little stuck for what to do. Perhaps some stalls, some late night shopping some… something to get the people from Keighley, Ilkley, Leeds, Wakefield, etc who don’t normally go into Bradford a reason to stay and see what’s what.
With Gideon Seymour, I certainly want Bradfordians to be supported by their council, given a leg up to show off their work. However, could anyone in the district do something that special, that spectacular? I don’t know. If Gideon thinks so, in his position, I will certainly bow to his superior knowledge. However, I wouldn’t want to have Bradford’s parks, gardens and galleries a Bradford-only zone, and, if we are to reinvent ourselves as a modern, bustling cultural hub, attracting artists with the experience and reputation of T.I.L.T. is a given.
But back to Cllr Hinchcliffe. What does she think about Bradfordia and Gideon Seymour’s posts? Well, if you’d like to know, just ask her. She is a prolific tweeter and I’ve asked her questions on a number of things and she’s replied because, it seems to me, she cares and she wants to know how to do better… which seems strange from a politician, even though all, at least most, must get into the game out of a sense of duty.
What I do believe is that, culturally, Bradford is on an upward trend – mainly do to my new love, City Park. This must be built on and culture, excitement and interest should radiate out from there, and other centres in the district, bringing a new lease of life to Bradford & District. This certainly seems to be Cllr Hinchcliffe’s hope and what she’s working to. I would love for this to happen, with traders taking full advantage by making the increased number of visitors welcome and wanting to come back.
But what of Employment and Skills? I put it to her that Bradford had too many closed shops, too little regeneration and too high unemployment. She said the comments “could be made about many cities in the UK” and pointed to a failed development in Sheffield comparable to Westfield’s failure to build in Bradford. Fair enough… but Leeds has opened another shopping centre which was begun long after Westfield, and Halifax boasts a new development that Bradford would, frankly, die for. At the moment, Bradford’s getting the shitty end of the stick and whilst she can blame the coalition, the fact is her party was in charge nationally during Bradford’s recent decline. Can Labour be trusted to the best for the city and district when it has failed us so spectacularly in the past? It’s time the Labour Party in particular stopped taking us for granted, sent us some decent Parliamentary candidates and did something for us.
In terms of how we vote, it seems to me that Bradford has done itself a disservice by consistently voting in local politicians of a different flavor to those in Westminster, meaning that we don’t get the support the district so vitally needs. If this is the case, we need people who are willing to work with others, not against them, no mater how distasteful this is for some.
Cllr Hinchcliffe points to what she and her colleagues are doing to ‘Get Bradford Working’: a £7.7m project, the largest of its kind in the country. This is intended to stop the rise in unemployment and get more of us, young and old back into work. And in my constituency, Bradford West, something needs to be done and fast.
She points out Bradford’s Labour group priorities as being many of those I pointed out in my email, showing that, as I suggested, Bradford hasn’t changed that much since 2001:
- Improving educational attainment
- Supporting the District’s economy, jobs and skills and city centre regeneration
- Supporting the most vulnerable adults, children and families
- Reducing health inequalities
- Affordable and decent homes
- Safe, clean and welcoming neighbourhoods
At the moment, Bradford West has one of the highest, and most rapidly increasing, levels of unemployment in the country, and Bradford remains in the bottom 10 of Local Authorities on educational attainment in the country, and, certainly, the perception that areas of Bradford & District are not safe nor welcoming are ingrained (although I would disagree with this and have asked West Yorkshire Police for figures, though am still waiting for a full response to my FOI request made a couple of months ago). Cllr Hinchcliffe and the Labour group have a lot to do to improve this.
One thing I dislike and distrust about the political animal is the playing of the blame game. At times, Cllr Hinchcliffe does this too. In the email, failings and shortcomings are laid at the feet of both the ruling Coalition and the previous Tory/LibDem leaders of the council. I took Philip Davies to task about this so must do the same. I am tired of politicians blaming each other. The way I see it is that politicians have become so distrusted, so disliked, that they are all tarred with the same brush, so blaming another one is merely bringing blame on themselves. After all, they’re all the same, aren’t they? Maybe not but I bet many people think that way – a plague on all their houses. But, this is how politics works – t’was ever thus. However, I wish some of them would stand up and take full responsibility.
What Cllr Hinchcliffe was at pains to point out, too, was that I’m responsible for Bradford’s future every bit as much as she is: “every time you buy something in Kirkgate Market or go to a show at the Alhambra and buy a beer there, you are contributing to the coffers of Bradford people. They are both council run and if they are successful then that’s good for Bradford.” To be honest, it felt good to have a politician telling me, being very clear, that she can’t do it alone and it’s up to all of us to make Bradford better… which it is! In this respect, she is certainly as good as her word. I asked about use of Twitterfeeds and Facebook and, giving some details about a short search I did, showed that the various twitterfeeds aren’t retweeting each other and Facebook isn’t being used well. Cllr Hinchcliffe said she’d act… and she did. I cannot claim any real responsibility but Bradford Council twtterfeeds such as @visitbradford @cityparkbd and others are not being used more actively and are retweeting each other – I really hope I’ve played some pat in this and I am really heartened that we have councilors such as Cllr Hinchcliffe who actively engage with her constituents.
I like Cllr Hinchcliffe. She has a passion for Bradford, a desire to get things moving and is clever enough to know that if she listens to people and works with them more rewarding and far, far more successful… and for all that, I thank her. Having said that, I trust she knows that if Westfield isn’t built, if the City Park isn’t part of cultural revolution, if the unemployment rates continue to rise, I’ll be the first one to tweet my complaint.