It’s not that Leeds is doing badly, but we’re not doing as well as some would have us believe.
SO there we have it. Mission complete. Job done. We’re officially residing in the land of milk and honey.
Haven’t you heard? Leeds is rolling in it. We’re richer than every other city in the North and even giving those high falutin’ types in that there London a run for their money.
This is according to Barclays, which has produced a “prosperity hotspot” map of Britain. And, believe it or not, we’re red hot. Positively sizzling.
Now I would never want to bash Leeds or talk it down. And it is genuinely heartening that a huge global company like Barclays is talking us up in this way.
But as much as something like this can provide a welcome dollop of good publicity and who knows, maybe even catch the eye of a potential private sector investor or two – who, let’s face it, are the people we need to keep attracting here – there’s also the risk of it doing us untold harm.
Because as much as we would all love to be residents of the Promised Land, we know full well that’s not the case here.
Yes, Leeds is doing ok. We’ve got a couple of nice shiny new buildings in the shape of the Arena and Trinity, with another in the form of Victoria Gate down by the bus station on its way.
But to recast Leeds as a ‘rich city’? Sorry, that’s not just a long way wide of the mark, it’s also downright dangerous.
Leeds remains what it’s been for getting on for two decades now – what’s known as a ‘two-speed city’, one that’s divided between its haves and have-nots.
Sure, on the face of it, things seem fine. There are those new buildings going up, plenty of shops opening their doors and two huge universities down the road.
But look beneath the surface and things are very different. Leeds still has some of the most deprived districts and communities in the country.
The children brought up in them aren’t likely to be able to afford to shop in those expensive new stores, let alone be able to obtain or pay for an education at one of the universities.
And wander just a stone’s throw from some of the smartest and leafiest parts of our city and you’re likely to find scenes of grinding poverty that are every bit as distressing as those half a century ago.
Back in 1999, Leeds submitted the first ‘two-speed economy’ bid to the European Union, staking a claim to millions of pounds of aid by underlining how many of its citizens were missing out on the boom that had brought the likes of Harvey Nichols to town.
The reason for the bid was that our own government had crunched the numbers and decided Leeds didn’t actually need as much help as it said it did. In short, we weren’t poor enough.
But although the city had seen a growth in jobs, these had been tilted towards commuter areas rather than the urban core where the demise of manufacturing had left a gaping hole.
And for all those shiny new shops and office buildings this is still a problem now. The geographical definition of Leeds when it comes to measuring things like relative wealth presents a skewed picture of how well the city’s residents are faring.
The traditional inner city areas are the most glaring example of the inequality that still exists here, but nor can we ignore the islands of poverty that surround the wealthiest parts.
And while house price houses in many areas have spiralled out of control, the gentrification that has tranformed so many corners of London is still a long way off.
Things like the promise of thousands of new jobs in the Aire Valley will help, but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Leeds doesn’t have its share of problems.
Most of all, we cannot allow the Government to think we don’t need the same help afforded to other major cities. It’s not that Leeds is doing badly, far from it. But we’re not doing as well as Barclays, and others, would have us believe.
Tragic summer at the seaside
AS the sun glistened off the seemingly benign waters on a baking hot day at the beach, the North Sea couldn’t have looked more inviting.
Pestered off my towel by a five-year-old son eager to try out his new bodyboard, we waded into the water.
Suddenly, without warning, the waves started to get stronger. Just as I was giving serious thought to returning to the sand, one crashed against my body and knocked my son clean off his feet, the undertow dragging him further into the water.
Thankfully, we were still on the shoreline and he was able, with a little help, to get back to his feet. I told him we would retreat to the beach and wait until the sea grew calmer.
Dealing with a disappointed five-year-old was, I told myself, far preferable to risking calamity if we stayed where we were.
But this has been a late summer of tragedies off our beaches and many others, including five young friends down at Camber Sands, haven’t been so lucky.
What I find incredible is that those who risk their own lives coming to the rescue when people get into difficulties in the water are either funded by public goodwill or do so on a voluntary basis.
We’re talking about an emergency service here, and yet they receive no Government funding whatsoever.
Shouldn’t the presence of lifeguards and others be determined by need, rather than cost?
Why bother with sitcom remakes?
WOULD you bother repainting the Mona Lisa or doing an updated version of a Henry Moore? Of course not. So why are the BBC rehashing classic comedy series and making such an almighty pig’s ear of them?
The other night we were ‘treated’ to remakes of both Are You Being Served? and Porridge.
Now I was never a huge fan of the antics of the Grace Brothers’ employees and all those gags about “Mrs Slocombe’s pussy”.
But at least the original series had some charm and a few rib-tickling moments. The new version was crass and about as funny as root canal work.
The 2016 take on Porridge which followed was a bit better. But I still gave up after about five minutes.
Because why bother in the first place? The originals are still easily available and their best moments stand the test of time. This was a waste of money which merely served to remind us just how good they were compared to this drivel.