Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Inaugural Darlington Debate

Off to Lingfield Point last night to sit in a huge empty factory unit, complete with lovely silver foil wrapped extraction ducts, for the inaugural Darlington Debate: "The Economic Future of Darlington: Dynamism or Decline".

It was presented as a "Question Time" style event, cordially chaired by Peter Barron, editor of the Northern Echo. Unfortunately it lacked that key ingredient that makes QT such rivetting viewing: a divergence of views on the panel. I don't recall any significant disagreements among the panellists and only one minor spat in the audience about the role of the voluntary sector.

Also, because the panel were on the same level as the audience, those of us sitting near the back could not see the speakers very well. And hopefully they'll get the sound system sorted out before the next debate, whenever that might be. Maybe there'll be a General Election version with the various party candidates. That'll be fun!

Tomorrow there will be a report in the Echo and also the chance to watch the whole thing on internet tv. Don't expect any great insights or excitement, though. This was a decent start to what I understand will become a regular series of debates, but with all the speakers keen to stress the positive side of business in Darlington and no one on the panel to represent the unions or the wider community, it was (just like the Darlington Partnership Prosperous Theme Group) full of the prosperous and successful. A little controversy would have been appreciated!


james said...

I had expected that you would have ventured a question, Mike.

Perhaps you got the same nerves as I did when signing in ;-)

Mike Barker said...

The wink is noted. The first time I got up to speak in Council was at my very first Council meeting, and I was shaking like a leaf. After almost three years in the Chamber I no longer get nervous before speaking in public, though perhaps at my maiden speech in Parliament...

I went along last night to listen and learn. I did want to interject at one point, but Steve Rose got his hand up first and then said some of what I wanted to say.

The point I intended to make was that, despite all the fine words we heard last night about Darlington being "a great place to do business", while we have such grotesque inequalities of wealth, living standards, life expectancy, teenage pregnancies etc etc between the most and the least affluent wards in the town, how can we truly say that we have a dynamic or successful economy in the town.

Judging the economic success of the town should be about more than how many companies open for business here, which university departments are going to locate here or how much those in work earn here, important though those measures are. It should also be about how successful we are at enabling that success to trickle down to the poorest people in society, those trapped in a dependency culture, reliant on state benefits, often for generation after generation.

Until those in relative poverty at the bottom of the economic ladder are able to share in the success enjoyed at the top of the ladder, our economy cannot be judged to be wholly successful.

ian said...

sounds like a missed opportunity in the end.
Like the idea of the parliamentary candidates having such a debate though, i amsure that would be alot more "lively"

As an aside i would be most interested to know what the Darlington Partnership has ever actually achieved, or it it just a talking shop for the great and "good" of darlington.
Also, is it wise for the editor of the local newspaper to be so closely associated with such an organisation?

james said...

"Trickle down" is a bit of an odd phrase.

Rather like waiting for crumbs to fall from the master's table, Mike.

I think what Steve Rose might have been getting at is that social enterprises can have specific a purpose rather than being, as traditional private businesses, solely focused on profit-maximization.

I would recommend a book by Muhammad Yunus, "banker to the poor", called "Creating a world without poverty" in which he talks about micro-credit and social enterprise in his native Bangladesh.