Recent national news cautiously talks of a small growth in output over the last quarter and the recession ending.
On Question Time, in his careful way, Vince Cable said: “nobody’s pretending that this is some final recovery but it is encouraging”. There’s talk about whether the underlying trend is flat-lining rather than improving (because of the Jubilee and Olympics ?).
While there’s always a danger that we see what we want to see, in Halifax the opening of Broad Street Plaza seems to have given a lift to the town centre. From the Town Hall, we see people going up and down the steps. Most of the restaurants are now open, as is the car park and the hotel. The cinema opened with James Bond and the young person with me on work experience is looking forward to being able to go to the cinema in Halifax rather than Bradford.
I’ve just been looking at the local unemployment figures produced for the Council’s Economic Task Force, and it’s difficult to see real improvements in the trends. One figure goes up as another goes down. After falling for three months, the number of unemployed people claiming benefit went up slightly in August (at 6,591, still double that in April 2008 when this all started). The Youth Unemployment figures appear to be improving: with a reduction of 150 (down to 1,825) over the last 12 months – but still, to my mind, far too high.
Our best opportunities for getting real recovery locally, it seems to me, is to be actively engaging with local businesses, to be planning ahead and stimulating the local economy, and to be making the most of opportunities for investment though the regional organisations (looking all ways, to Leeds and Manchester, and to East Lancashire). We’ve got both European and Regional Growth Funding for local businesses and schemes, we’re planning to significantly the infrastructure – especially, broadband and transport.
We don’t yet see much impact on housebuilding: I’ve just been reading the summary of the Council’s draft Local Plan which has been published for consultation. It talks of needing 800 new homes a year but last year only 500 were completed.
So there’s still a lot to do and not much money to do it with. Broad Street has taken at least a decade to my knowledge and had some financial support from the old Regional Development Agency. We’ve now got to be more visionary and more imaginative than ever if Calderdale is still going to be a good place to live, work and visit. And I think that the Council has to take a leading role in this although, more than ever, we can’t do it on our own !