After months in the planning, JPIT Yorkshire successfully launched last Saturday at Leeds Civic Hall. Rt Hon John Battle, Honorary Chair of JPIT Yorkshire, welcomed a hundred participants to a conference where our thoughts were led by Ryan Powell, reader in urban studies at Sheffield University, and Ed Cox, the Director of IPPR North.
Under the theme What Hope for Us? Recovering Confidence in the North, Ryan presented work on disconnected communities, those hard-to-reach places where deprivation is stubbornly resistant to interventions by local authorities. Of particular concern are those places where people are disconnected from work, even when jobs are geographically close. Ryan introduced us to “Austerity Urbanism”, where welfare reforms have effectively created a massive disinvestment from disconnected communities. The poorest among us, in left-behind communities, are paying a high price for austerity politics.
Ed Cox pointed out the critical importance of community anchor organisations in places that have been left behind in this way, churches included. He encouraged us to view the Northern economy as offering huge promise for the future. But it needs to be owned by all of us, not just by business. We all have a stake in how the northern “household” is arranged. The Northern Powerhouse is a genuine attempt to connect our big cities together to regenerate economic life across the north. Transport connections between cities are therefore important, as are digital connections. If we take hold of the idea, we can attempt to shape an economy built around good growth. Good growth involves the creation of good jobs – secure employment rather than zero hours contracts which do not always promise work, and well paid enough to make a proper living for one’s family. For this we need confident regional institutions which generate greater democratic accountability. We should not forget that in 19th century England it was northern municipalists who built the city halls, northern industrialists who built a new global economy, and northern democrats who challenged the prevailing power structures of the day; and that many of these men and women who were inspired by faith. We need to rediscover our independence and our self-confidence. In such a context, JPIT Yorkshire has a significant part to play.
Discussion followed and Rachel Lampard, Vice President of the Methodist Conference and Team Leader of the national Joint Public Issues Team, responded to Ed Cox and Ryan Powell as well as fielding questions with them from the floor. Senior leaders from the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed churches signed off the document that shapes the agenda for JPIT Yorkshire in coming months and years. It was a hugely successful day, indeed one to be celebrated. As one of the participants commented, however, the real work starts now!
With thanks to all those who participated in the day. Spread the word; and if you want to start a local JPIT group to energise local congregations around public issues, please let us know if we can offer support.