When your city is viewed as a ‘working class theme park’ you have to shake things up

This column is not going to be about yet another mission statement for local government. Rather it is about how we translate a vision into reality.

Cities I believe cannot remain static – they are either growing or contracting and while I am as nostalgic as the next person about a golden age (in my case the sixties) I have to recognise the city I have the privilege of heading cannot simply remain as it is if it is to survive. Consequently when I first came into the position where I could define a vision and a way forward, I wanted one that reflected the need for progress, as well as one that respected the traditions and strengths of the city.

There are many people who have a traditional view of Salford. They remember it as a slum city with Lowry’s matchstick inhabitants. They like to see it as a sort of working class theme park. Often these are people who would not wish to live in the image they like to carry around in their heads.

This is a view that I often find among journalists sent to cover an issue in the area, a gentler version of Jeremy Clarkson’s view. They often seem a little disappointed there are no children with rickets or outside public toilets anymore.

I on the other hand fell in love with the city and its huge strengths. It has a sense of solidarity and care for the vulnerable. It has an ability to struggle through adversity and its practical realism. I wanted to follow policies that would strengthen the positives while tackling the negatives.

I started by trying to define what we were about. I referred in a number of speeches to being a city that was proud of our past, but wanted to look to the future. I set about reversing the outward migration of people from the city and wanted to tackle the perceptions that might make it difficult for people considering investment.

I accept that local government is often not good at seeing the bigger issues and that we break things down and lose the bigger picture. We have tried to link it all together. We ran an advertising campaign calculated to shock and some of you may remember it with slogans such as ‘public hangings are back in Salford’ (a reference to the art gallery) and the use of a magenta branding.

Yes, it was controversial, but it enabled me to appear on all the terrestrial television channels and local radio in what was one of the very few examples of a local authority marketing campaign hitting the headlines. We developed Salford Quays not only in a way that enabled the council to make a profit but in a way to attract inward investment and jobs. We supported the Lowry theatre and gallery to attract world class opera and ballet knowing that it would strengthen our case for major companies to locate in Salford.

It was, however, about more than the obvious tools of regeneration and we worked intensively with the police and local community to bring crime down. We worked with the schools to raise achievement faster than any other authority in the country. Where house prices collapsed we intervened in the market. We devolved money to local communities to spend on their priorities. We had to take difficult decisions and did not always get them right but we did not regard this as a reason to retreat into our comfort zone.

Next month I want to talk about what have been the results of civic entrepreneurism.


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Andrew Stevens
Andrew Stevens
12 years ago

I’m not being facetious, but I trust you are familiar with the term and concept of ‘city branding’?

Equally, there’s some debate in and around the Labour Party around elected mayors and how they can act as the force behind a city’s brand (cf. Birmingham’s lack of a cohesive one amid its ramshackle coalition arrangement). As a council leader perhaps you’re in a position to shed some light on the current system and how that works (or doesn’t)?

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