Tuesday 24 December 2013

Is retail really the answer to Brent's economic development?

London Designer Outlet, Christmas Eve, 11.30am
If you wanted a little bit of peace and quiet away from the last minute Christmas shopping crowds then Wembley's London Designer Outlet (the LDO) was the place to be this morning. I popped in to see how things were going after visiting Wembley Library - the library was more crowded!

Of course the LDO has only just opened (but so has the library) and the weather forecast was poor (but that affects library users too). The library is for local people while the LDO is intended to attract crowds from within the M25 so transport disruption affects the latter more.

Despite this one would have expected more shoppers. The store doing the briskest trade was the Tesco Local just outside the LDO on Wembley Hill Road. There is still time for things to pick up and perhaps the post-Christmas sales will help, although of course products are heavily discounted anyway.  However there are vital questions to be raised.

I had a sharp little exchange with Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, earlier this week when I criticised his frequent tweets urging people to shop at the LDO - I suggested he had becomes its PR mouthpiece. He retorted that it provided jobs for local people and Cllr Pavey flew to his support accusing me of having no sense of fun and praising the LDO as a great addition to the local economy. The initimable tweeter PukkahPubjabi joined in, asking how many of the jobs were on zero hours contracts and the London Living Wage.

I responded: 
We have different views on what constitutes a viable, sustainable local economy. Reliance on retail is not the answer.
And that perhaps sums up the differences between me and Brent Labour on this. At the beginning of the Quintain regeneration I suggested that an emphasis on retail in a period of recession and debt was not a good idea and that the kind of jobs that would result were not of sufficient quality for our young people. Brent Greens put forward a suggestion for a Green Enterprise zone in the regenerated area, offering incentives for green industries to be set up, contributing to combating climate change and with pay-offs for residents in terms of energy saving technologies and adaptations.  There could be links with local colleges for training and apprenticeship schemes. The result would be skilled jobs of high social value contributing to the wider economy.

This is of course based on clear differences in our assumptions about future economic development. In the face of diminishing natural resources and the need to cut back on carbon emissions as climate change accelerates. Greens are looking for more sustainable economic models not linked to every increasing consumption and debt.  Socially useful production geared to needs not wants. A more equal society with less division between the rich and the poor.

Labour is still signed up to the neoliberal model with their challenge to capitalism little more than trying to give it a human face. They do not question the strategy of expanding the economy through consumption and borrowing. Despite the 2008 crisis they have little to say about the reform of banks or the City of London, reducing the ratio between the lowest and highest paid in corporations, or ending the privatisation of the public sector. On a local level Muhammed Butt doesn't recognise the contradictions of pushing discounted designer shopping to a population suffering income decline and thus easy prey for the loan sharks he is pledged to control.

That difference is what makes me an eco-socialist within the Green Party.

When we submitted our views on Quintain's and Brent Council's retail vision for the Wembley Park regeneration we described it as high risk but at the time it did include social provision such as family housing, health centre swimming pool and a new primary school. These remain to be built and would surely be of more benefit to Brent residents than retail units offering 60% off kitchenware!


Anonymous said...

Great picture, Martin, and comments right on the nose. And if Michael Pavey is looking for a 'sense of fun', maybe he could pick up the phone and call some of the sacked Copland staff and their families over the holiday period; I'm sure they could provide him with some seasonal hilarity.
Have a good Christmas yourself!

Anonymous said...

Agree on the point of LDO not providing jobs of sufficient quality. IMO it is more likely to provide jobs of a more fleeting nature: a increase in seasonal and part-time roles rather than sustainable permanent positions. It may create a short term positive buzz but ultimately not a long-term solution. As to the point of whether it will actually be good for consumers, it may actually not be as good as they think it is. The Channel 4 Dispatches documentary "Secrets of the Discount Stores" covers that point: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3617744