Lost Contact with the Land?

[We] have ‘forgotten’ that the economy and all its works is a subset and dependent upon the wider ecosystem. . . Modern citizens have not only lost contact with the land, and their sense of embeddedness in the land, but at the same time they have lost those elemental social forms of more or less intimate and relatively transparent social relations. Thus a basic aim of bioregionalism is to get people back in touch with the land, and constitutive of that process is the recreation of community in a strong sense.

Barry, J. (1999), Environment and Social Theory (London: Routledge)

Poverty in Leeds

How does poverty play out in the economic powerhouse of Yorkshire, the retail and tourist success story, the regenerated and rebuilt city, that is Leeds?

Well, here are some figures, collated by the Leeds Initiative and published on their website.

  • In Leeds there are 29,695 children aged under 16 who are living in poverty – 22.9% of all children in this age range
  • There are 33,295 dependent children aged under 20 who are living in poverty (22.1% of the children / young people in this age range)

33000 children, 1 in 5 of our children, living in poverty.

Poverty is not distributed evenly across the City, and these averages hide pockets of child poverty that are as high as anywhere in the UK.

On October 14th we are holding an Innovation Lab where the people of Leeds are invited to come and think about how poverty works in the city and what we can do to disrupt it, personally and collectively.  We would love for you to join us….http://povertyinleeds.eventbrite.com/

Are We A Crisis Management Society?

We are a crisis management society, a society that congratulates itself for solving problems that, in its ineptitude, it has created –

“Over the last two decades, our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship – ‘civic excellence’ as we might say. And a good educational system in a healthy society is one that builds character, that builds virtue.

“Character involves … a deepened sense of empathy with others, a deepened sense of our involvement together in a social project in which we all have to participate.”

So says the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

I agree, we are a crisis management society.  Essentially laissez-faire in our approach.  We prefer to leave well alone until there is a clear deviation from the norm.  A banking crisis, a riot, a rotten press, an even more rotten copper or three or a disappointing world cup. Then like an angry manager we seek out someone or something to blame and unleash our fury in an attempt to get things ‘back to normal’.

Except, back to normal is back to being a crisis management society…

The Archbishop’s analysis, that blames the education system for a failure to instill a particular form of morality and character, strikes me as an attempt to further promote compliance and acceptance. To reset the threshold at which a crisis might be sparked just that little bit higher.   It strikes me as yet another attempt by a laissez faire manager to postpone the next crisis.  It also implies that the moral crisis in our society lies exclusively with those that take to the streets in order to threaten our communities rather than those that take to the boardrooms and the cabinet tables.

My analysis is a little different.  People need to feel a degree of respect, dignity and power in their lives.  They will do whatever it takes.  They will organise if that helps, gangs, co-ops, social enterprises, lottery syndicates.

We need to stop being so laissez faire and make some major changes to ensure that access to respect, dignity and power is made much more accessible to many more people.  We have to help people to find the keys to their preferred kingdoms.  I suspect that our broken society will then pretty soon find ways to mend itself.

Because it is not so much broken as abused.

The business of human endeavour…

For a long time now I have had real concerns about the focus of policy makers, and the projects that they spawn, on ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ as being just too business oriented.  It is as if the only fields of human endeavour that matter are commerce of some kind.  Making money or fixing societies ills.

This is especially un-nerving when you see it played out in our primary schools as 6 year olds are encouraged to wear badges that proclaim them be a ‘Sales Director’, an ‘Operations Manager’ or a ‘Brand Executive’. Yuk!

What about all of those other great fields of human endeavour?

Climbing mountains, making art, having fun, playing sport, writing, cooking and so on.

What if we encouraged our 6 year olds to wear badges that proclaimed them to be ‘Footballer in Training’, ‘Ballet Dancer under Construction’, ‘Surgeon to Be’ or ‘The Next Michael McIntyre’?  OK, so perhaps we don’t need another Michael McIntyre…. but you get my point?

Because what really matters is not exposing more people to the world of business and entrepreneurship.  It is to get them imagining possible futures, and learning how best to navigate towards them.  It is about developing people with a sense of agency and influence over their own futures.  It is about building a generation with both power and compassion. And a generation who really understand how to use the tools of collaboration, association and cooperation in pursuit of mutual progress.

Does it really only matter if their chosen endeavour contributes to GVA?  Or is there more to our humanity that we need to recognise and encourage through both our policy and practice?

And this is not just an issue in schools.  It runs like a plague through our communities from cradle to grave.

I think this is important because we lose so many who are completely turned off by the thought of a world of commerce (and let’s face it we don’t all want to dive headlong into a world of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice).

So what about if instead of focussing on enterprise and entrepreneurship we attempted to throw our net wider and to encourage and support people to build their power and compassion in whatever they choose to be their particular fields of human endeavour?

Community, Cultural and Economic Development – On a Shoestring…

This is the modest challenge I have set myself. A challenge for several reasons.  Firstly these phenomena are usually divided up and tackled by different teams, using different professional jargon, working to different policy objectives in different departments and sectors (for profit, public and third). Tackling community, cultural and economic development as a kind of holy trinity vitally important.  Yet we usually separate them and often end up with economic development that breaks community or ignores culture and vice versa… Another challenge is the fixation that many policy makers and leaders have with ‘big ticket’ solutions.  Want to stimulate culture?  Let’s build an Arena or a Gallery?  Need to stimulate economic development?  How about an Enterprise Zone or a Technology Park?  Or, anyone for high speed trains?  Multi-million pound projects that rely on politicians, bureaucrats and professionals working together to invest millions.  In these austere times there are economic development consultancies that will write you papers on how to finance these projects using tax increment finances and other such stuff! But let’s get back to basics on this. Community, Culture and Economy are like ying and yang, except there are three of them!  They are facets of the same thing: Human endeavour (or as the policy makers prefer to call it enterprise). So, if we want to develop community, culture and economy we are in the business of developing Human Endeavour. And that need not cost a lot….

A Window Into Council Revenues…closes on August 19th

Did you know that, up until August 19th 2011, you are entitled to look at, and to ask for copies of, any documents relating to Leeds City Council financial transactions that happened during the year 1st April 2010 and 31st March 2011.

The exception to this is any documents which contain personal information about a member of staff, which the legislation excludes from the inspection rights. Depending on the areas of income or expenditure that you are interested in, the types of documentation available would include invoices paid by the council, invoices sent out by the council, contracts, and documents showing how internal charges from one service to another have been calculated.

Once you have inspected any documents that you want to see, the legislation gives you the right to either ask questions to the council’s auditors (KPMG), or to raise objections to them about any aspect of the accounts.

The Audit Commission’s guidance on this ‘Council’s accounts – your rights‘ is downloadable as a pdf from the Council’s website..