Monthly Archives: April 2014

Identity and Difference in the City: working with The National-Coalition Building Institute

Helen Wilson, Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development writes about her current research …

This month saw the AGM of the National Coalition-Building Institute (NCBI London), at the House of Lords. As a non-profit organisation founded in 1984 by Cherie Brown to tackle inter-ethnic violence on college campuses in Washington DC, NCBI now has over 50 city chapters across North America, Latin America and Europe. Each of these chapters was founded by volunteers to train local community leaders in effective bridge-building skills focused on tackling discrimination, prejudice and conflict in different cultural and urban contexts.

Since its inception, the range of projects undertaken by NCBI International has been extensive. This includes (to name only a few), school violence prevention projects across Switzerland, work on racism and racial profiling with police forces in the US, community work following riots in the UK, anti-Islamophobia workshops, dialogue work with refugees and asylum seekers, inter-faith community projects and LGBT awareness days (for more information see NCBI International, NCBI UK and NCBI CH). These programs have won NCBI international acclaim for its work on prejudice, which includes the Nelson Mandela Award for ‘outstanding international work on fighting racism’, a Gabriel Award for excellence in youth programming and numerous British Diversity Awards for Best Diversity Practice.

I started working with NCBI as part of two linked projects funded by the Royal Geographical Society and the British Academy/Leverhulme in 2013. My research asks how difference is negotiated in the everyday city. More specifically, it concerns the spaces, people and organisations that facilitate learning and dialogue across difference in such a way as to challenge and disrupt normative accounts of belonging, both on a day-to-day basis and in response to particular moments of crisis. Both of these projects concern international networks of community-led intervention programmes that broadly seek to address discrimination, prejudice and violence in its many guises. As such, over the past year, I have been attending key NCBI events, workshops and projects, which to this point have taken me to London, Bristol, Birmingham and Annapolis, MD to take part in training events and to speak with participants, facilitators, trustees and collaborators.

Whilst the projects undertaken by NCBI are wide-ranging and are carried out across an international network, one thing that remains consistent across all of its chapters – and is at the core of its work – is a one-day identity and difference workshop that focuses on the circulation of prejudice. The workshop, which utilises incremental learning exercises, includes an in-depth examination of prejudice and stereotypes, a reflection on their roots and harmful effects, discussions on structural inequalities and an account of how community leaders might better interrupt, challenge and prevent prejudice and violence on a day-to-day basis.

In the media, it is often the more spectacular, or extreme accounts of prejudice that make the headlines – the arson attacks on mosques, the ‘go-home’ billboards driven around London, or the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The Boston bombings in April of last year and the killing of Lee Rigby in London in May, were followed by a substantial spike in reported incidents of Islamophobia. At the same time, pressures on resources have seen a resurgence of xenophobia, anti-immigration campaigns, more punitive responses to asylum seekers and a considerable shift in attitudes towards welfare recipients. Behind these events, are stories of the ways in which xenophobia and racism continue to inflect the everyday lives of people in ways that often go unnoticed, unchallenged and unreported. At a time of increased pressure on the capacity to live with difference in contemporary cities across both North America and Europe, the role of voluntary and non-profit organisations like NCBI should not be overlooked and a better understanding of their impacts, practices and mobility is critical to understanding the social challenges facing contemporary cities.

For research interested in how community intervention programmes are learnt and mobilised, organisations such as NCBI pose a significant methodological challenge. On the one hand, my research is focused on the idea of replication. It asks how a leadership training model that was originally developed to address inter-ethnic conflict on college campuses in the US, has been successfully mobilised to address a wide spectrum of diversity-related issues in many different cultural contexts and settings worldwide – in communities, workplaces and institutions. At the same time, whilst interested in the mobility of this work, the research is also focused on the local programmes that city chapters undertake. This includes the motivations that sustain them and the forms of learning that they encourage, encompassing a vast research site, 50 cities and thousands of participants and projects.

Despite harsh funding conditions and public cuts, NCBI London has experienced a notable revival of activities in the last year having worked with campaigners and local government for the last 14 years on a variety of community based projects. At the AGM, a new advisory committee and board of trustees was announced, along with its projects for the coming year. A new three year Young Ambassadors Program was launched, the first cohort of which was at the event to mark its beginning. Four community listening workshops were announced in Bristol, the first of which will take place next month and will provide a space for the exchange of stories and experiences of mental health in the community. This will be followed by a meet your neighbour event, to address the lack of communication across different community groups in Bristol, whilst a number of workshops in London will be working with women to explore what it means to be a woman today. These workshops will address pertinent questions about the persistence of sexism, a project that will see NCBI collaborate with the Peabody Trust – a London based housing provider and community generation programme that has a long history of community work in the capital. All of these individual projects will occur alongside NCBI’s regular community workshops on identity and difference adding to a varied portfolio of projects that highlights both the breadth of the charity’s focus and the variability of funding priority and availability.

Whilst funding might be hard to come by, this month’s AGM was positive, although as Baroness Young of Hornsey, pointed out – there is substantial work to be done. Standing in the House of Lords we were reminded that London is a city of extreme inequality. Indeed, we only need to look at the demographic of Parliament to recognise the size of the challenge. This was a point that was not lost on the people gathered in the Cholmondeley Room – representatives from local institutions, councils, charities, the NHS, community centres, businesses, parliament and the City – and indeed was the very thing that brought them together.

Beyond the AGM, NCBI London’s annual report and its outline of projects to come, offers up some important lines of inquiry for cities research. Perhaps the biggest is how we go about evaluating and attributing the impact of such work when so much of it is based on incremental forms of learning and stretches across multiple different sites and cities. More importantly however, is the question of how academic institutions might better support and collaborate with such organisations to secure funding, support local projects and exchange knowledge. By working with NCBI over the next couple of years these are just two of the questions that I hope to address.

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Who owns London’s revenues?

Adam Leaver of Manchester Business School, University of Manchester picks up a point made by Evan Davis in replying to an earlier blog Size matters? London – the subsidy junky. Evan asked the following question about whether London was a ‘subsidy junkie’:

“Don’t you have to take revenues earned by each region into account too? To reduce it to basics, it could be that London is more productive and as a consequence is more tax-generating and more expensive. It thus needs extra public spending. That is not a subsidy if London more than raises the money to pay for it”.

Putting to one side the dubious point that more productive regions are necessarily more expensive, two issues arise immediately out of this intervention. First, Evan raises a question about measurement: how do we measure regional cross subsidy when one region is so successful and requires higher levels of public service investment to sustain its success? Second, implicitly, he raises a question about ‘ownership’ of those revenues – that higher levels of expenditure are not a cross subsidy if that region is simply spending its own money.

The issue of cross subsidy is a difficult one to measure. On a per capita measure, it is certainly the case that Londoners receive higher levels of public expenditure than individuals elsewhere in the country. As my colleagues argued, identifiable expenditure on services per capita is higher in London than any other English region, though figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are higher. On transport infrastructure expenditure, the per capita figures are: south-west £215, north-east £246, Yorkshire and Humberside £303, north-west £839, London £4895. The differences are astronomic. However, it is also true that London has historically generated a greater proportion of gross value added growth, and – as figure 1 shows – this has increased significantly post- crisis. Since 2007, London and the South East account for close to a half of the UK’s total GVA growth.

In some ways these figures support Evan’s query. Even if we consider the possibility that tax efficient schemes are more active in London than elsewhere, it is frankly implausible that London doesn’t also generate a significantly greater share of the UK’s total tax take. But perhaps that is the wrong way of looking at the issue of cross subsidy because it only takes into consideration ex post distributions. By thinking about ex ante cross subsidies – that is distributions, guarantees, bailouts and other subsidies that underpin activity – a different picture emerges.

To take one example: financial services. The cost of the UK bank bailouts, are estimated at between £289 billion to £1,183 billion by the IMF. Similarly the presence of a state bailout guarantee, reduces banks credit risk and allows them to borrow more cheaply. In 2009 alone it was estimated that this amounted to a funding cost reduction of more than £100 billion for 13 banks in the UK. With that level of subsidy, of course we might expect those industries to become world leaders. Of course we might then expect an influx of global talent as those subsidies allow us to pay the best wages and bonuses. We might expect foreign direct investment as global companies source here to access that talent. We might expect allied industries to spring up – lawyers, accountants, service firms, boutique establishments. We might then expect agglomeration economy dynamics to emerge as demand multipliers kick in. Those industries would make a lot of money, and would pay a lot of tax – as would their employees. But that is a state subsidy, applied to London and not to activities prevalent elsewhere in the country. Further, because those activities suck in talent from the regions (engineers, mathematicians, physicists and other scientists) they undermine the broad competences of non-metropolitan areas. This implies less palatable conclusions to those of Mind The Gap because gains are zero sum: to replicate the success of London, regions must wrestle power and state subsidy from it.

Let’s take another example: PFI. The problem with ‘identifiable expenditures’ as reported by the Treasury is that it does not capture the leakage of revenues out of the regions. If a hospital is built in Manchester, how much money remains in Manchester? With the example of St Marys – not a lot. The shareholders on the St Marys hospital PFI were Bovis Lend Lease (50%) (HQ Kent); HSBC (25%) (HQ London) and Sodexho (25%) (HQ London). The contractors were Bovis (Design & Build) (HQ Kent), RKW (HQ Dusseldorf, Germany), WR Adams (HQ Georgia, US but a Bovis subsidiary), Building Design Partnership (HQ Manchester), Anshen Dyer (HQ Calif/London). The private sector advisors were Clifford Chance (HQ London), Faithful & Gould (HQ London) and Marsh (HQ London). Financing involved the European Investment Bank; Deutsche Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada. With these foreign firms it is also the case that much of the money flows back to their London offices. So this is state money supporting London based business and employment even when investment is in the regions. Infrastructure investment of this kind could be organised differently to the benefit of the regions, but this model has the effect of operating like a quasi-regional policy for London and the South East.

Finally, on the question of ownership: are these London’s revenues? That is a tricky question because it raises all kinds of technical questions about how we account for these things and moral questions about proprietorial claims in a national economy. It is perhaps worth noting that banking profits rest on the principle of eking out a thin film of profit on a teetering tower of assets and liabilities. When those assets values rise, the booked profits are assumed to be London’s and are distributed accordingly via the bonus system and comp ratio; when they fall and banks require a bailout, the accumulated losses are assumed to be national. To put this in the parlance of finance, this is a regional moral hazard: the metropolitanisation of gains and the nationalisation of losses.

The issue of what the regions can learn from London deserves deeper thought. UK second cities are small and growing more slowly than London. In ratio terms, the UK’s largest 2nd tier city generates around 10% of the output of London – the second highest capital to 2nd tier city output inequality within the EU. In terms of the regional concentration of GDP creation, that means we have more in common with a Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania or Greece than a Germany, Netherlands or Sweden. It is just not credible to continuously laud London as an exemplar from which others might learn, without recognising the role of these ex ante state subsidies from which London benefits disproportionately and which reinforce regional inequalities.