A November day out in Dunfermline; what could be more pleasant or stimulating? But, a day out at Scotland’s Towns Conference – oh the added value of it all. So, to the Glen Pavilion on the 16th November it was, for a day’s conference on Scotland’s Towns.
The theme of the Conference was ‘Think Local – Act Local!’ with an emphasis on the importance of place and the significant role that Scotland’s Towns play in the economy and society of the country. As Ross Martin, chair for the day, says – it is essential to protect the spirit of place.
First up was the Minister for Local Government and Planning (Aileen Campbell), who rather killed the moment by confirming that the Town Centre Regeneration Fund was dead. So a much-lauded, hugely needed, highly innovative, probably vote-winning scheme ends with after only one year. So much for Government and Parliament commitment to Scotland’s Towns! Money most certainly is tight, but £20m for Amazon or £60m for all of Scotland’s towns is a no-brainer for me.
Then came George Kerevan, who writes for The Scotsman and is an economist. I thought that I had cornered the market on doom and gloom in the High Street but George forecast seemingly endless decades of despair. In a masochistic way it went down very well with the audience.
Tony Martin from Fife Council then blamed the current state of the High Street on the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance in 1964, and called for its re-introduction. That is rather like blaming today’s world population on Adam and Eve –has a kernel of truth, but is ludicrous, irrelevant and slightly (well, not so slightly) mad, given the obvious consequent benefits.
The highlights of the morning were provided by case studies from Wendy Reid on Development Trusts and David Urquhart on Embrace Elgin (the Elgin BID). These were interesting, informative, passionate and genuinely moving presentations on what can be done in specific places. They provided strong learning and showed powerful understandings of localness and what can be done.
The afternoon was memorable for the presentation by Arthur Potts Dawson of ‘The People’s Supermarket’ fame. Passionate, engaging, realistic and thoughtful, he presented the ever so slightly tortuous history of The People’s Supermarket in London. As with Wendy Reid and David Urquhart; his commitment, enthusiasm and desire to see things change on a local basis, shone through.
He made a number of great points but for me two key learnings were that:
- Lewisham Council refused to believe in people – how many places can we say that about and why do we continue to allow it?
- The People’s Supermarket is replicable but not franchisable – this means people in Glasgow, or wherever, have to get their own acts together to make this work. There is no pot of money or central co-ordination to do it for you. This is where rhetoric meets reality.
There were other presenters, talent shows, Towns Got Talent competition, launch of Scotland’s Towns Partnership and regular and irregular tweets from CSPP on the day. Video and other content will be made available more widely in due course via CSPP, STP and BIDS Scotland (or even here if I get the links).
So what did Dunfermline tell us? There are lots of great things going on at the local level, but so much more to do and so much more that could be made easier. Scotland is fortunate in its towns and its people, but we must not, ever, take them for granted again, as perhaps we have done for some decades. The future of Scotland’s towns is in the hands of its people, and it might be nice if local and national politicians stopped tying these hands behind their backs. If we want local places to be great again, then lets give them the tools and stop worrying about loss of control, resources or whatever. What is there to be so frightened of?