After twenty years of failed regeneration wonkery attempting to solve inequality in the city through a bizarre combination of obsessive equal opportunity practice and small-scale community action and six years of Kelly and his culture crowd promising action on inequality in the city through some kind of as yet unexplained and unachieved cultural renaissance, we now have some new kids on the block.
The latest crowd claiming to tackle inequality in the city are Connecting Bristol. Largely made up of Watershed media types, their big idea is digital evangelism; a belief that by giving poor people access to technology it will somehow make them miraculously equal!
And this week finds the organisation unveiling its latest big idea . . . Creating corporate call centres for poor people in poor neighbourhoods to work in no less. Here’s what The Blogger posted about this on to their site:
It’s really hard to tell whether this kind of stuff is the product of naivety or cynicism. Either way I despair of nonsense like this coming out of our local authority. It’s enough to make you think that most Local Government Officers would sign up to the Final Solution if they thought there was a few quid of funding in it.
You can use all the bamboozling corporate spin and nomenclature you like about this but those of us who have been there know that a “customer contact centre” is in fact the crudely rebranded term for a call centre.
Why would you want to promote these places? They’ve been widely described as “modern sweatshops”; “the new satanic mills” and as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”.
OK there’s some hyperbole in such descriptions but it is inarguable that call centres, across the board, provide low pay, low status, short term unskilled employment. Their management is aggressive; the levels of staff monitoring unacceptable; their performance demands are often unachievable; trade unions in these places are usually non-existent or pitifully weak; staff turnover is huge; promotion opportunities are limited and job satisfaction non-existent.
More to the point, this type of employment in Bristol has already been proved to do nothing to tackle the underlying inequalities in the city. Remarkably, for an outfit calling itself “Connecting Bristol”, you seem entirely unconnected to either reality or any recent news.
Just this week it was reported that Bristol is going to lose its Neighbourhood Renewal Funding from the government. This is money that is targeted to specific areas of the country to tackle the problems of poverty, inequality and exclusion.
And the reason Bristol is going to miss out? The city is too wealthy. Indeed, Bristol’s GDP compares with the economic powerhouses of the South East rather than the former heavy industry heavyweights of the north where a lot of regeneration money goes.
This city’s problem is not the overall wealth of the place but the distribution of this wealth. And 20 years of central government regeneration funding has failed to tackle this – “Social and economic inequality in Britain’s cities is highest in Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool we learned (again) just this week.
One of the key reasons for this has been an unrelenting focus on “jobs” regardless of their quality or pay . Particularly in the south of the city, the Neighbourhood Renewal scheme has promoted low-status, low-pay jobs in the retail sector for some years now. OK, they’ve created employment bit they haven’t reduced inequality in the city one little bit. Neither are these kind of jobs likely to.
It’s plainly apparent, if you bother to look at the evidence, that what this city doesn’t need is any more crappy low-pay, low-status – virtual or otherwise – jobs whether they’re based in the city centre or in our local communities or on Mars for that matter. They simply will not solve the problems we are faced with.
Perhaps Mr Hilton could take this on board for when he visits RIBA in January and politely (or not) tell the assembled public sector bigwigs and their corporate friends looking to exploit our hopeless education system, low skills base and vulnerable communities that they can stick their call centres where the sun don’t shine.
Then on his return perhaps his organisation should focus on the things that are likely to successfully tackle the city’s inequalities. That’s the tough stuff like addressing our risible state education system; the urgent need for a major redistribution wealth within the city and the provision of decent skills that will provide the working classes of Bristol with the kind of opportunities and privileges Mr Hilton and his colleagues already enjoy.