Saturday 9 December 2017

Three Things Stoke Got Wrong with its City of Culture Bid

And so Coventry is the City of Culture for 2021, which more or less knocks Stoke-on-Trent out of the running for 2025 too. Would you award the accolade to a West Midlands city twice on the trot? Nope, and so the time is now to pick over Stoke-on-Trent's bid. There were three very obvious things the Stoke team got so very wrong future entrants would do well to learn from. Whether they made much of a difference to the judging panel, headed by establishment lefty Phil Redmond, is not known nor are they ever likely to be known. Still, why leave anything to chance?

1. The first mistake was making the bid explicitly political. "Deputy" Council Leader Abi Brown (pictured) was all over it like a case of measles. She fronted the coverage and did all the important interviews. It was as if she was personally bidding for the City of Culture rather than a team of council officers and sundry specialists and notables. To anyone observing askance this looked desperately like a politician trying to own a good thing for their own profile while shoring up future electoral support. No doubt politicians were heavily involved in Coventry's successful bid, but they didn't make it about them.

2. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has an inglorious history of super-centralisation. How the bid was run by Abi, council chief executive David Sidaway, and a cabal of trusted lieutenants to the exclusion of others was no surprise. Okay, letting Labour councillors anywhere near the bid was never going to happen. But the Tories' own coalition partners, the City Independents, were kept out of view. If you are trying to draw the city together around a common cause, you have to practice unity and inclusion yourself. Nevertheless, this went above and beyond excluding rivals and opponents inside and outside the governing coalition. Local companies, local charities and third sector outfits, local schools, colleges and universities, all were involved but the involvement was on the bid leaders' terms. Suggestions for initiatives (especially if they referred to strategic issues) flew in one ear and out the other. This led to missed opportunities, inflexibility and, in some cases, incompetence. Like the shindig organised to promote the bid at Westminster, organised through the office of Jack Brereton - Stoke's only Tory MP. Movers and shakers from across North Staffordshire were invited down to London to rub shoulders and network with ... themselves. Meanwhile, Coventry's similar effort drew in politicians from the wider WestMids region and they used their contacts to ensure a decent group of the great and the good turned out from politics, media, business, etc. They had a good cluster going, while the stupid overmanagement of the Stoke bid led to a cluster of an altogether different character.

3. The City of Culture bid should be an occasion for showing off your home town. You know, highlighting all that is best and undiscovered about the place. The role of the politicians, therefore, is not to unveil stupid, petty-minded and cruel policies during the last stretch of the competition. That is all they need to do. So what did our Tory-led coalition with the City Independents and UKIP do? They announced they were consulting on a vindictive crack down on the homeless. Instead of banning rough sleepers outright from the environs of the city centre, they instead wanted to fine people for bedding down for the night in tents. That it was dropped earlier this week doesn't matter, it made national news. For a city recovering from a reputation for small-minded prejudice (witness difficulties with the BNP and more recently, UKIP), it doesn't take rocket science to suppose seeing this ugly side of the Potteries alive and well in its council blotted Stoke's copy book with the judging panel. Therein lies the perils of making the bid explicitly political. You can talk a good game of united strength being stronger, but publicly declaring an intention to victimise your most vulnerable residents shows you up as a hypocritical humbug.

1 comment:

Johnnyf said...

I think you make some fair points , it seems the Council took over the bid part way through and that is never a good thing , perhaps they thought that having the bid fronted by a Tory would appeal to a Tory minister but Coventry had a far more influential Tory to support their bid in a Mtro Mayor.

A lot of good has been done locally bringing people together and this has to carry on if the City is to thrive , the council whethe rLabour or Tory needs to know its place as a facilitator and servant of the people not as laeding .

This is not party political I felt it was the right thing to go for the bid and I honestly doubt we would have under Labour as it currently stands .

But the politicians should stay out of leading these things the community should and the politicians should help them instead of always taking control which all aour local parties seek to do .

The London event as you describe it beggars belief when we have the Director of the V&A in support of the bid and who could no doubt have used his contact book to good effect .

I hope lessons are learnt but sadly as far as the local politicians are concerned I doubt they will be as the petty squabbling over council elections in 2019 will soon begin .