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Why the Bank of England should move to Birmingham

Regional Bank of England offices should also be set up in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast.

UK banks have helped to create a distorted economy. Banks are diverting resources away from industries vital to the future of this country, towards unproductive sectors such as speculative real estate.

Financial stability is being compromised by an economy that is insufficiently geared towards productive lending and investment. As a central bank sitting at the heart of the financial system, the Bank of England needs to be playing a leading role in ensuring banks are helping UK companies to innovate.

There is a clear need to re-establish the link between the real economy and the banking sector. Creating a strategic investment board that co-ordinates the actions of the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy can help ensure that productive sectors are being adequately funded. The strategic investment board would bring together scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and representatives of industry and trade unions. This new structure would improve the flow of information and funding for research and development.

Indeed, the UK’s productivity performance is extremely poor by international standards, while it runs the risk of being left behind by technological developments. This has longer-term consequences for wages and living standards. Research and development spending is too low. 

In critical sectors, the UK is lagging its competitors. Robotics is an obvious example. Japanese industrial production of robots surged 55.3 per cent in October compared to the previous year. China is fast developing its own domestic capabilities too.

A detailed analysis of UK trade data will be an important starting point to understanding the structural problems that need to be addressed. The UK is running record trade deficits in technology-related industries, such as computer, electronic and optical products (£22.9bn in the year to Q2 2017). The shortfall in manufactured goods was £128bn.

The UK maintains a comparative advantage in some services sectors, for now. Nevertheless, these tend to be concentrated in a small part of the country. The disproportionate number of technology companies in London and the South East will increase, exacerbating regional inequality. It could also impede economic growth: according to some estimates, London is now the most expensive tech city in the world. Governments have a critical role to play in addressing these weaknesses, but that will require determined, strategic action.

A National Investment Bank – proposed by Labour in its latest manifesto – should be established in Birmingham. The strategic investment board would sit alongside it. As we recommend in a report commissioned by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, some Bank of England functions could move to Birmingham too.

In addition, regional Bank of England offices should be set up in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast, alongside two smaller regional offices in Newcastle and Plymouth. The regional offices of the Bank of England and the strategic investment board would ensure that productive lending is geared towards the needs of local businesses.

Relocating core economic institutions would provide a clear, visible example of any new government’s determination to promote economic growth and a rebalancing of the economy. Birmingham is an obvious candidate, but there are other options too. This is just the start of a broader debate that must be had.

It should be stressed: this is not a token nod to devolution. The idea of moving control of economic policy, and some functions of the Bank of England, away from London is to create an alternative “cluster”. Control over finance has allowed London to dominate the rest of the country. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the regional divide has widened. As we show in the report, unless we take radical action, this gap will continue to grow, to the detriment of everyone.

Graham Turner is the founder of GFC Economics, which was commissioned by the Shadow Chancellor to report on financing investment. 

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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?