Two simple things - Revitalising Rochdale, Heywood & Middleton
By Hassan Ansari
Looking to a post COVID world, it is easy to slip into 'tried and trusted' formulas for economic recovery - especially in traditional industrial towns like Rochdale, Heywood & Middleton: Giving big business generous tax breaks to come to town and maybe a slew of luxury houses to attract the managerial classes - oh, and a fancy shopping centre to get the newly local to spend a pound or two in the area - sound familiar?
It doesn't have to be like that. And more importantly, it shouldn't.
This 'tried and trusted' formula ensures one thing and one thing alone - money pouring away from the borough. Into the pockets of the big employers who do come to town - gaining the benefit from low set up, low wages and discounted ongoing costs . The newly local soon find that the bright lights of Oldham, Bury, Manchester or the Trafford Centre soon dim their enthusiasm for shopping local. The big chain stores that set up in the new shopping centre often syphon their takings away to corporate HQ's in London or further afield.
Tried and Trusted - or - Tired and Busted? Could we keep that money here instead?
Two Simple Things:
You would be forgiven for thinking that a traditional textile town described as 'grey, grim, austere and unsafe' was Rochdale, Heywood or Middleton - but it isn't. This was a councillor from the French town of Mulhouse almost a decade ago, describing his own home town. The big chains had moved away from the highstreet, the town was ringed by hanger-style retail parks, the center of Mulhouse was the kind of place you didn't go after dark. A decade on and pre-COVID, things couldn't be more different. Mulhouse is a vibrant, bustling town centre with major chain stores queueing up to take premises. So what changed?
Mulhouse, Eastern France
The town council introduced low or zero business rates for locally owned businesses in those first few critical years until they were thriving. Smartened up the town centre by planting trees and improving pavements and open spaces. Encouraging people to live in the town centre through a program of redevelopment and renovation of derelict sites as housing - and a critical investment in public transport, cycle schemes and discounted parking. The town centre is now so popular that big chain stores are prepared to pay higher rates to get in - just a few years ago they were demanding rate reductions to stay.
Rochdale is so close to recreating the Mulhouse magic. Can you spot the missing ingredients?
Made in Cleveland
Along with the NHS, the Council are the biggest spenders in these parts. The days of Woolies, Whipp & Bourne and the mills are long gone. But what can the Council do to help? The Council awards contracts for goods and services worth millions of pounds every year. Could those contracts be going to local businesses instead of national or international firms?
An element of the 'Trickle Up Economics' theory by Cleveland, Ohio based entrpreneur Ted Howard - and implemented in his home town - means local government tenders are written to favour group bids by local firms for things like construction, catering, cleaning and much more besides. Perhaps one local business cannot service the whole contract alone - but, as a group with other local companies, they can. For many years the European tendering journal (OJEC) was held up as the reason why this kind of thing couldn't happen. In the wake of our exit from the EU - there is no reason not to do it.
The model of keeping local government contracts local was a huge success in Cleveland. It preserved and expanded local employment and gave local firms the chance to bid for contracts that would have otherwise passed them by - securing their long term future.
It was such a success in Cleveland that it was copied by our near neighbours in Preston in 2012 - now regarded around the world as a huge success story. Bristol & Birmingham have also begun their own Trickle Up revolution. Could the Trickle Up Economics work in Rochdale, Heywood & Middleton?
What else could help make Rochdale become a self sustaining economy? What do you think? Take our survey and let me know:
Business & Technology Spokesperson, Rochdale Liberal Democrats