After six months of “the Wilson Perspective” – also known as “Dave’s opinion on just about everything” – it’s timely to look back and see if there are any themes which emerge from these weekly musings.
While it’s gratifying to have a record of being accurate with my predictions, it’s not especially nice when the things I foresaw have been to the detriment of the city and district.
Since all the questions I’ve asked have been in the category of the bleeding obvious, why hasn’t any preventative action been taken?
- Brexit, the Tories, business rates and VAT blamed for city shop’s closure
- Volunteers give up hundreds of hours to work in city museums
For example, as suggested here only in June, Nasons store has now called it a day. But that is only the most prominent of a continuing roll call of shops which have shut since I first looked at the High Street earlier in the year.
And it’s not just in the city centre: Homebase is closing, Maplins has gone, several smaller retailers have shut their doors.
Like it or not, the retail scene is changing forever and Canterbury is not escaping the change. Indeed, the Business Improvement District’s (BID) own figures record a continuing long term decline: start-up businesses are 38% DOWN in the last year.
The number of people coming into the City centre is down 9%, sales are down, and attendance at visitor attractions are down too (incidentally, somehow the BID performance report manages to count that as an “improvement”, which rather calls into question their judgement).
For this, as usual, our council offers no potential solution, makes no suitable proposals, and has no apparent leadership to offer.
Clueless as usual – unless you count buying the whole of Whitefriars for around £150 million, which shows an impeccable sense of timing as retail sales grind to a halt.
Still, the authority’s chief executive Colin Carmichael claims that this will allow the council to be in control of the city centre’s destiny. I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out, given the current inertia and the need to pay back all that money at some stage.
That illustrates another theme of the past few months, the surprising profligacy on the part of our council.
Apart from the Whitefriars purchase, £9 million (and rising) has been borrowed to build a car park which is almost universally hated before it has even been built. Meanwhile, £23 million is being spent to convert student property into 63 homes for residents – which works out at £365,079 for each one – that’s about 10% ABOVE the average cost of a home in the whole district, for what are predominantly going to be flats.
If you recall, the Conservatives are the self-proclaimed Party of prudent spending, constantly attacking Labour (that’s my lot, in case you hadn’t twigged), for a supposed tendency to waste taxpayers’ money.
Well, here in Canterbury our council seems intent on throwing money at poor investments, building things no one wants, or pays way too much for housing. This isn’t just shocking wastefulness on its own terms, but rank hypocrisy into the bargain.
Indeed, hypocrisy is the third key theme. What else can you call it when leading Tory councillors, after eight years of Tory government and about 40 years after their beloved Mrs Thatcher started the whole thing off, suddenly decide that perhaps the money raised from the Right to Buy scheme should be spent on building more houses?
Having supported the policy for years, it’s a bit late to turn round now and decide it’s an unsustainable system. But if you do have to change tack quite so publicly, perhaps our councillors would also like to condemn Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, the closure of Whitstable and Herne Bay Job Centres, rail fare rises, lack of infrastructure spending, potholes, traffic congestion, planning rules which favour developers over conservation, cuts in police budgets, under spending on the NHS, the state of the K&C hospital. I could go on, but I don’t want to give Neil Baker too many more ideas about things he could do a U-turn on. He might get dizzy.
Finally, I’ve regularly bemoaned the lack of imagination from our councillors. This is a great city and fantastic district.
So why are we so in thrall to policies pumped out by Whitehall which have little relevance to an area with such a mix of rural beauty, history and quirkiness?
Where is the thinking that will get the district economically thriving, building on our universities to retain the talent they produce in the local area, make the place more attractive to residents and visitors alike, improve the quality of life, and generally make things better?
If the only excuse is that this is what the Tories believe in, then perhaps its time we looked elsewhere for some leadership, imagination and accountability.