Localism and Its Neoliberal Application: A Case Study of West Gate New Deal for Communities in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Article excerpt

   'Local residents will control all aspects of the New Deal
   programme including planning, delivery and finance. Any
   subsequent statements, clauses, or implications which
   contradict this protocol in fact or in spirit will be deemed
   to be invalid.' (Protocol for West Gate New Deal for
   Communities, May 1999)

   'Community involvement was window dressing to get the
   money.' Councillor John O'Shea, 23 March, 2000
   (Wilson, 2000: 55)

Introduction: 'The West Gate: Open for people, Open for Business' (1)

From the spring of 1999 until the end of 2000, a group known as the 'West Gate Interim Steering Group of New Deal for Communities' (hereafter ISG) met in Newcastle upon Tyne about every two weeks. In January 2001, this steering group was replaced by the formally constituted Newcastle West Gate Shadow Board for New Deal for Communities. The first of these organisations is the optic through which, in this paper, (2) an early attempt at realising the New Labour Government's New Deal for Communities is viewed. The focus is on the relationships between the 'community', its representatives, and the professionals who participated in the project in its initial phase.

Many writers on urban political economy in Britain have commented on the development of an increasing interest in the local on the part of the central state. They have rarely done so as sharply as Brenner and Theodore, who write:

   Paradoxically, much of the contemporary political appeal
   to the 'local' actually rests upon arguments regarding
   allegedly uncontrollable supralocal transformations, such
   as globalization, the financialization of capital, the erosion
   of the national state, and the intensification of interspatial
   competition. Under these conditions, in the absence of a
   sustainable regulatory fix at global, supranational, or
   national scales, localities are increasingly being viewed
   as the only remaining institutional arenas in which a
   negotiated form of capitalist regulation might be forged.
   (Brenner & Theodore, 2002: 341)

One form of this localism is the emergence of the so-called 'entrepreneurial city' (Hall & Hubbard, 1998). This form of city is so called because an entrepreneur is a contractor who mediates between capital and labour. The modern entrepreneurial city, on the other hand, is one that frantically grooms itself in order to be competitively attractive to external investment capital. Thus,

   A variety of policy experiments have subsequently been
   advocated in order to unleash the latent innovative
   capacities of local economies, to foster a local entrepreneurial
   culture and to enhance the flexibility of local
   governance systems. In short, the new localism has become
   a forceful call to arms through which local (and in some
   cases, national) political-economic elites are aggressively
   attempting to promote economic rejuvenation from below.
   (Brenner & Theodore, 2002:342)

Much of New Labour's urban policy derives its inspiration and legitimation from neoliberalism (Antipode, 2002). The essence of neoliberalism is a positive endorsement and enhancement of the market mechanism, and an obeisance to capitalist business as a form of organisation that is inherently superior to the forms developed by the local and national state: 'What runs through [...] different areas of program redesign is the concern with introducing some notion of "the market" into the state system, both through the formal resource allocation model [...] and through the co-opting of business leaders' (Jones & Ward, 2002: 485).

However, Jones and Ward argue that recently, 'the state has invoked notions of "neighbourhood" and "community"' (op. cit.: 489). These invocations are an attempted governmental rejoinder to the widening of the span of economic inequality that is the inevitable result of the application of neoliberalist policies. …