Battersea's creative panel at work

It was Battersea’s turn to host the Wandsworth Business Forum last night and it adopted a creative theme, billing itself a ‘Creative Function at the Junction.’ A more creative aspect of it being the use of a panel – rather than speaker – format, composed of various people from various creative industries in Battersea.

Two questions asked have stuck with me: what constitutes a ‘proper job’ and in a climate of spending cuts, what should be saved?

The first, what is a ‘proper job’ resonated because I don’t think I have one (and wonder if I should) but also because it tied up with me as relevant to the spending cuts question. And the answers to that surprised me.

No-one said anything should be saved.

Yes, there were suggestions that ‘investment’ was necessary, but it was clearly indicated as such. David Jubb from Battersea Arts Centre and Jack Bremer from 3B Digital both highlighted the benefits of early investment, but differentiated it from subsidy – it shouldn’t just be cash that makes a theatre seat cheaper or directly employs, but cash that leverages extra resources, or develops people who go on to employ others.

But the key message was simple: we don’t want cash, just remove the barriers.

Anthony Laban used the example of the Lavender Hill Festival – “a day when 10,000 Londoners had a smile on their face and enjoyed being part of a local community” – but which had, at times, been painful to organise because of the hurdles public authorities put in their way. It was then made even more painful because it seemed different bits of the council didn’t talk to each other. It reminded me of one of the best descriptions of local government I’ve ever heard, “you shouldn’t think of a council as a single body, but as a loose federation of occasionally warring tribes.”

So how does this relate to a proper job? Well, the answers didn’t focus on hours, salary or perks, but creation. In other words, if you can somehow get money doing something that creates something worthwhile, even if intangible, then it’s a proper job.

Can a council do a ‘proper job’? We can look at individuals and argue yes or no to each. I suspect that most would have fairly firm views between, say, a Battersea Park gardener and a parking attendant, but as a collective body do we create or just regulate? We enforce so many things, but have we gone too far down the road of ‘these are the rules, we must enforce’ rather than ‘there are rules, but they work towards a bigger vision’?

Admittedly, it might not be pleasant to get (or give) a parking ticket. But should it simply be done because that’s what the rules state, or because it’s part of a wider vision in which residents have a good chance of parking near their home, and a decent turnover of parking spaces near shopping areas that helps keep our town centres vibrant?

One of my favourite anecdotes is of the NASA toilet cleaner. It appeals to my geek nature as well as being a superb example of the power of a vision to an organisation. The story goes that during the 60s you could approach anyone in NASA, even the toilet cleaner dealing with the most unpleasant part of their job, and ask “what are you doing?” and the reply would always be, with total sincerity, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Everyone recognised that they had a crucial part to play, however small.

So what would the answer be in Wandsworth? I fear far too few would answer “making this a great place to live and work.”

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