They fly the Prime Minister out to Afghanistan on a ‘morale boosting trip’, (any soldiers whose morale was boosted by this trip, feel free to e-mail me, I’d be delighted to know you exist)
They spend £540 million a year on marketing and communicating their ideology via TV and print advertising under the guise of’Public Information’.
They cajole celebrities like Piers Morgan into using their prime time television shows to market the allegedly ‘human’ side of the Prime Minister.
They even, bless them for trying, attempted to foist the Prime Minister onto Match of Day to keep him in the public eye, but even the slavishly loyal BBC baulked at having that popular programme cursed by Jonah.
Full marks to them for teasing maximum advantage out of minimum pounds.
But that was Labour Party pounds they were trying to save. Not the fine British pounds in the National Handbag.
Mr Eugenides this morning led me towards a prime example.
It seems North Tyneside has been tasked with finding the solution to the age old problem of recessions – what do you do when all the boarded up shops outnumber the businesses that are clinging on and start to act as a deterrent to visiting that shopping centre?
Back in 1966, or maybe 1965, The Elephant and Castle shopping centre was built and quickly became known as the ‘White Elephant’. Times were hard and only a 10th of the shop units were occupied. It wasn’t an inviting place to go, lighting was kept at a minimum to contain costs, so you groped your way past boarded up shop fronts to Woolworths and Spud’s are Us, which from memory were just about the only people managing to pay both rates and rent and remain open.
Privately owned, the management had to do something that didn’t involve tax payers money, for the simple reason that they didn’t have any access to tax payers money. They were also liable for the rates even on empty properties. They came up with a novel idea.
‘Tell you what’, they said, ‘anyone who is prepared to stock a shop and pay the rates, no rent, on the strict undertaking that if we manage to find a paying tenant they vacate the shop in one month without question, can have one – free’.
Guess who elbowed her way to the front of the queue?
Which is how I came to have a magnificent 60 x 60 brand new shop in which to settle yet another of my capitalist money making ideas – this time it was, if memory serves me right, buying old pine chairs down Bermondsey market for 10 shillings each, painting them in day glo colours, adding a few squiggles and dots in other day glo colours, and remarketing them as just the thing at £5 each for the household that couldn’t quite afford the Habitat originals…..
I know, sacrilege, and years later those chairs all re-emerged on the market stinking of caustic and were re-sold as genuine Victorian pine chairs by the glut of pine shops on the King’s Road. They probably cursed my dots and squiggles as they sanded them out – at least half the paint was anti-barnacle marine paint bought in a job lot and tinted with left over stain from my candle making debacle – I managed to blow out three of the windows in my rented flat, and leave a fine rose garden dripping in candle wax, but I digress as usual.
The point being, that at no cost to anyone, that shopping centre was filled within a couple of weeks with dozens of fledgling and colourful businesses earning their proprietors an honest living, and all dutifully paying the rates and thankful for our good fortune. The centre thrives to this day.
Compare that to North Tyneside’s solution.
With 140 empty shops in the borough, council bosses think they have come up with a unique way of ensuring shopping areas remain as vibrant as possible.
The first empty shop unit to be given a makeover with a “flat pack” shop front is in Whitley Bay.
“This is a simple and cost-effective approach that keeps the retail unit available for potential new uses and in the meantime also contributes to the street scene.”
Empty shops in Wallsend and North Shields are now being earmarked for similar treatment, which costs about £1,500 a time.
The government-funded project involves colourful graphic designs featuring a range of different shop types, which are either taped inside the windows or screwed to the fascia so they can be removed and reused as required.
So, nobody is paying any rates. Nobody is being given an opportunity to set up a low cost business and get off the dole AND it’s costing the ratepayer £1,500 a throw.
Does anybody know which relative of a Labour councillor holds the contract for doing this work?
Mr Eugenides describes it as the ‘Potemkin Village’ solution. Perfect, I couldn’t have put it better myself.