I got back a little too late from my travels to see Swansea’s City of Culture bid delivered to the assessors.
It looked like a pretty slick affair and I fully back the ambition involved. Even so, I can’t help feeling that this region’s recent past has been a near-continuous cycle of bidding for glittering prizes to supplement an under-funded local economy. When I was first getting into serious politics, the big economic game-changer was to become named host city for the National Garden Festival.
We lost out to Ebbw Vales but it’s clear that our proffered Swansea Vale site has fared much better over last 25 years in terms of actual jobs and investment than the winners. A few years later we were locked in another competition - to be home for the newly-minted National Assembly for Wales. We lost that one as well; although I’d say we learned a lot about effective partnerships in the process.
I have to say that this “Hunger Games” approach to state funding and the willingness of local authorities to participate has always puzzled me. You see nothing like it in Europe where the role of councils is taken a lot more seriously.
It also speaks volumes about our social attitudes that we accept the use of competition when determining whether to remove much needed services.
All too often the odds are stacked in one direction. The decisions over children's neurosurgery or the trauma centre took very little actual evidence into account. In much the same way as happened over rail electrification, establishment minds were already made-up.
A large part of me wants us to walk away from all this damn nonsense. Enough of strutting our stuff to impress out-of-town judges. Let’s get on with the priorities that don’t involve winning the lottery,
And yet the unreconstructed Jack in me is just like the guy at the Liberty who persistently bangs the drum for Swansea whatever the score.
The Shakespearean warning reckons “All that glisters is not gold” – but who knows, before the week is out we will yet find ourselves in competition with Cardiff to have the first tidal lagoon.
... and culture for all
The thing about Swansea is that no matter what the ambition, there’s always someone ready to tell you that it should be bigger, better and in a nicer colour altogether.
As such, the vibe I pick up about the City of Culture bid is that for every acolyte there is another who regards it as just another civic binge-fest carved up to serve commercial opportunities.
It’s a tough call for the organisers but I think they are already getting across that culture is whatever we say it is.
It can be the province of fashionable black-clad chic but it can’t thrive in small rarefied locations enjoyed exclusively by the ‘access-all-areas’ elite.
If we’re successful then we can expect creativity at every level - celebrated, and showcased in the street and on stage. The more outrageous and provocative the better.
Whatever happens, it must be about people – and at the very least, it’s gotta have a few laughs.