Osborne’s plan, big in the Eighties

Echoes of the Long Good Friday as the coalition goes back to the Eighties.

It was supposed to be the great idea that would show the UK's beleaguered business people that the government has a plan for something other than balancing the books.

Central to the Chancellor George Osborne's set-piece crowd-pleaser at the Conservative Party's spring conference was the announcement that about ten regional enterprise zones are to be created to develop the economy outside London.

It is a reheating of a very old idea that encountered serious problems the first time around. Violent gangsters used the big one, London's Docklands, as a way of getting very rich by laundering proceeds of crime.

To get an idea, rent a copy of The Long Good Friday, starring Bob Hoskins as the gangster Harry Shand, who tries to get the Mafia to invest in the Docklands boom. Sadly it's a true story copied by robbers, drug dealers, people smugglers and terrorists.

A repeat of the 1980s is now a possibility because of the decision to axe the regional development agencies (RDAs) among the quangos that are to be burned on that coalition bonfire.

RDAs weren't perfect, but, given that central government money and local people were involved, there was at least a level of scrutiny. The job of the RDAs was to attract inward investment. Regional planning, which is critical to investment, was dovetailed with local plans so that everyone was "on the same page".

The Chancellor's zones will be located outside London and will involve local enterprise partnerships, coalitions between businesses and local authorities. Critics say that compared to the multimillion-pound budgets of the RDAs, the local enterprise partnerships lack funds. The cash void, ministers hope, will be filled by private investors.

The model is the Docklands redevelopment, which included the creation of Canary Wharf.

On a superficial level, Docklands worked even though the Canary Wharf developer went bust. The City has relocated there and it has created jobs. But the local community was either locked out or shipped out. But behind the glass and chrome lies a dirty little secret: some of the Docklands regeneration money was seriously crooked.

A sizable amount of cash from the notorious Brinks Mat bullion robbery was invested in the Docklands redevelopment in the 1980s. Exactly how much, no one knows, but the return made the crooks involved even richer.

The idea was copied by several of Liverpool's crime families a decade later when they wanted to clean drug money. They simply bought in to the redevelopment opportunities created on their doorstep as part of the drive towards the City of Culture bid. Ever wondered why there are so many blocks of flats in regeneration?

And the IRA did something similar by investing in business properties in Greater Manchester. Rumours are that Northern Ireland will become a single enterprise zone. A frightening prospect.

The basics of it are simple: set up an offshore bank account in the name of an investment company and get some UK residents as directors, ideally a lawyer or two, to act as investors. They then bring the cash into the enterprise areas and either sell up on completion or stay as long-term investors. Either way, the cash is cleaned, and earns interest.

Standing in the way will be a group of broke councils with minimal scrutiny skills doing oversight of deals already signed, usually in the planning committee. And yes, there is the potential for bribery. Besides, who would dare to stand in the way of job creation and investment?

That committee votes the development through. Under the Chancellor's plan, there will also be sweeteners such as tax breaks or reduced developer fees, such as the Section 106 agreements that pay for local infrastructure.

Questions have been asked before about Britain's lazy approach to international money-laundering, particularly with the influx of Russian cash.

Chris Smith is a former lobby correspondent.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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