Ghost Towns (2)

British villages are dying from the inside out, as are many smaller towns and the satellite districts of larger urbs.

It’s all part of the same thing, this decay, transport, the environment, the disillusionment. If you can improve one, then the gains will feed into the others, but if you ignore one, or neglect it, it will drag the others down with it. This seems to be an obvious point the politicians and pundits are all missing, possibly because it’s too much like the ‘Joined up Government’ we were promised, but more likely because it doesn’t make for such good headlines.

What sort of schemes could work in such a holistic way? Centralised planning certainly isn’t going to solve the problem, what looks good in Westminster usually proves pretty ugly in the wild. You can’t entrust the task to private industry because the need for long term plans doesn’t sit well with the need for instant share price gratification. And the public sector tends to underfunding and inertia. The answer is to give the people you want to help the power to help themselves. The answer is co-operatives.

My local bike shop is a co-operative, and you couldn’t hope for a more professional and courteous bunch. None of them is marking the time until the end of the day simply for the wage, as they each have a stake in the success of the shop. The desire to keep customers in the long term, and the understanding of how vital this is, shows in the after sales care and shop based cycle club. In a rural or small town setting the ideal co-operative would be a bit more fuzzy in its aims. A shop with Post Office and internet cafe that could serve as a drop off point for the larger parcels ordered from amazon and distribution centre for the cheaper food the elderly and carless can’t get from the supermarket. If the loop could be closed and produce sourced locally then the community benefits even more.

So give co-operatives a chance. The initial investment can be quite high, so give tax breaks to companies that redistribute income, and delegate control, amongst the employees. Existing butchers, take a look at your neighbours the grocer and bakery and work out how to take your produce to the doors of the people who would normally waste their time driving to Tesco. Find local farmers and offer them an outlet that won’t take such a huge cut from the price of their products. Individually, we’re all a bit apathetic, but together we could make such simple schemes work.