What a great piece. A really straightforward explanation of some complex economic geography issues.

I think Oldham demonstrates the limits of what we think of as regional policy when a place is faced with such strong economic headwinds at the national and international level. You look at Oldham and think it's reasonably well-placed to benefit from proximity to a medium-sized city with a reasonably high-quality services offer, world-class university, young and growing population, decent export base etc. The transport links are good, the schools are massively improved over the last 20 years or so, the local authority is well-run at the executive level (putting the messy politics to one side).

But then it's faced with what Michael Heseltine called 'counter-regional' policy - national policy which even if not explictly favouring other places, does so through decisions on tax or R&D or infrastructure. Austerity that stripped the productive capacity out of local government in places most reliant on it. A form of Brexit which makes exporting more difficult, affecting places like Oldham with more manufacturing jobs than the national average. R&D policy which pumps money into the Golden Triangle.

Whether it's called Levelling Up or something else, regional policy (devolved or delivered by central government) can only do so much when faced with Treasury orthodoxy that has worked against places like Oldham for decades.

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Good article but some of what's missing comes out in the last two crucial comments - "the economy isn't working for most people" and "we just haven't got any money."

Why's that?

We need to start highlighting issues of ownership and where our money goes.

Oldham is no different to loads of other places where money/wealth is extracted by people and organisations who are outside the local community, or by the already wealthy within it.

Though it talks about alternative approaches, the article reflects the kind of economic thinking that caused the problem in the first place.

We need a different kind of thinking about the economy.

Productivity and growth shouldn't be the drivers.

The foundational economy is what matters most, and shouldn't be equated with "low-value" and "low-skill" - neither of which are true.

More private sector investment (eg Atom Valley) is likely to mean more wealth extraction from our towns.

Reversing austerity and investing in the public sector will benefit all of us, improving our well-being and leading to more money circulating in our local economies. It's not a teat we need to be weaned off.

"Manufacturing" isn't necessarily a good thing - who owns the making and selling? does anyone really need the stuff we're making?

Ownership, and transparency about ownership is key.

Without that, things just carry on as they have been.

We may see more shiny new buildings and roads, but we won't really benefit.

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I’m meeting up with Westwood at the University of Manchester, and while it feels a long way from Oldham, he’s no ivory tower academic. He’s spent much of the last year travelling around post-industrial towns in Germany and the United States trying to understand how to turn the fortunes of such places around.

This for me is the crux of what this article is seeking to elucidate and find answers for -- the decline of post-industrial towns like Oldham, Rochdale, Bury. Andy Westwood has the knowledge and experience to compare these towns with how they do things differently (and better?) in Germany and the US, but he never reveals what those differences are. Or perhaps he was never asked? If towns with similar histories and populations abroad have solved some of these problems and are thriving, how did they do it? A lot of the discussion around future planning in this article is just waffle. The one fact that shone through as a POSITIVE and DISTINCTIVE difference we could actually grasp is that technical colleges overseas are more integrated and in tandem with local trades unions and industry, and thus serving the needs of both sectors. But this government has for 13 years and longer sought to denigrate trades unions and hollow-out their role so that their effectiveness in organising labour and their power in effecting change for the better has been rendered null and void. This was a political decision (destroy Labour party allies) and the result has been that the government has been doing its best to kill initiative and cooperation in building vibrant communities while all the while pretending it was doing the opposite by promoting phoney schemes at cheap rates (in the jargon: Levelling-Up) which garner headlines but in practice achieve sweet FA. Which is their purpose.

(And of course the Tories are totally uninterested in the welfare of northern post-industrial towns; their natural constituencies are the south and Home Counties.)

I would love to read an interview with Andy Westwood in which he is asked to give direct comparisons with what he has observed between places in Europe and the US and our northern towns, and what practical, positive lessons we can learn from them. He's the man to tell us.

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The article was interesting to read, and I commend The Mill for producing such pieces.

I think the right way to look at the problem is to compare Oldham to parts of Greater London that are the same distance from central London. Those southern locations have much better transport links to central London than does Oldham to Manchester City Centre. As someone who lives 50% of the time in London, I do not regard Metrolink as remotely comparable in speed and convenience with London Underground.

Oldham is not a separate place; it needs to think of itself as an integral part of Greater Manchester, and to become a place where commuters want to live.

For Oldham to seek to compete with central Manchester in any way would just be an exercise in futility.

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“ Since 2010, public sector wage rises have regularly been frozen or capped, while austerity has led to job cuts. As a result, the amount of money flowing round the town has been gradually stripped away. ”

I don’t think this is unique to Oldham, sadly.

But there’s definitely an issue that while you can get from Oldham to Manchester, and Oldham to Rochdale on public transport relatively easily, I’m not sure you can say that about Oldham to Tameside or Stockport, or Bury? I think there was some recent evidence that the thing holding the country back outside the SE was lack of infrastructure, rather than anything else.

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