What vision of London and its future does the ESF promote? And what is the role of the ESF itself in that vision...?
Much of it is set out in the draft strategy for London’s future - “Sustaining Success” - which is the basis for GLA support for the ESF. The central belief is that London’s entire existence is dependent on its role, as one of the four global financial centres. The GLA approach to urban politics is that a city is comparable to a business, and that it is competing with other cities in a sort of global market of cities. What are they selling? Primarily, they are selling themselves as an investment location. In London’s case that overrides all other aspects. Smaller cities sell themselves as a residential or tourist location, London doesn’t need to do that. The GLA sees London’s competitors in Europe as Frankfurt, Milan, Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam.
So the whole idea of a city, in this view, is that it exists simply in order to compete with other cities, in this case for inward investment. The strategy document says:
“London has for some time been the market leader for inward investment amongst large European cities. According to Ernst and Young,in 2002 London succeeded in attracting 120 new inward investment projects (compared with about 60 in the Paris region). London is also an important location for international headquarters, with over 30 per cent of the Fortune Global 500 companies located here. As the international economy becomes more competitive (particularly with the UK being outside the Euro area),it is essential for London ’s continued success that it continues to be regarded as the City in Europe in which to do business. This will require a continued focus on both fundamentals – London ’s workforce, infrastructure, quality of life, cost base and regulatory environment – and effective promotion and marketing...”
So how does the GLA see the ESF in this context? Not as opposition to inward investment, but as a partner in selling London..
“Social enterprises and voluntary sector organisations are important both as a sector of the economy and as partners in delivering policies covered in this strategy.”
The GLA sees society as important, but only because it is important for business. This is why something like the ESF can be integrated into a promotional strategy. According to the strategy document...
“London needs to promote itself to its own people and businesses,not only so that they spend and re-invest in the city, but also to develop a sense of civic pride and commitment, and to ensure that the cultural and social benefits of living in a world city are available to all of its people. The confidence engendered by a strong and positive self-image has enabled cities such as New York and Barcelona to reap benefits from visitors and investment.”
Similarly, culture is seen as a promotional activity, it is simply part of the business strategy. The GLA is explicit about seeing London as a business, and culture as a marketing tool...
“It is recognised that a variety of approaches will be required to address the different target audiences that London ’s partners are trying to address....London can be seen in the same way as a company promoting a portfolio of products across a range of markets – using specific techniques to attract different market segments. What London ’s marketing strategy needs to do, therefore, is deliver a range of targeted messages that reinforce one another and build a positive and coherent image, promoting London as a place, promoting London to people and promoting London as a place for people to do business. London also hosts a wide variety of other cultural events – including London Film Week, London Fashion Week and London Design Week – that can be used to raise the profile of London ’s cultural industries.”
The GLA does not hide social issues, but sees them entirely in this context of the global market:..
“...tackling problems of social exclusion,child poverty and health inequality insofar as they undermine economic prosperity.”
In other words these are no longer seen as moral issues: children can die on the streets - so long as that doesn’t undermine the general economic prosperity. The rights or wrongs are assessed solely in terms of London’s success in the market of cities.
The ESF is for the GLA a place to promote this ideology. It is also part of the marketing strategy itself - an example of vibrant social enterprise, which will attract many visitors from abroad. And the ESF is a meeting of stakeholders, and those who are active in London are possible partners in the ‘delivery’ of GLA strategy.