Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Borg seek perfection

How to build the perfect town - the centre page spread from the Sunday Herald
The centre page spread from the Sunday Herald
You know, I was halfway through writing a lovely wee story this week about lambs playing in the fields and the beauty of our late Scottish spring. But when I opened my personal copy of the Sunday Herald this morning I choked on my Coco Pops when I saw a desperately attention seeking article on the Scottish Towns Partnership. My mood darkened. 

The article was apparently written by obscure poet John Burnside and is obviously what is called a 'placed article' - basically an advertisement feature dressed up as some sort of hymn of praise to the man they call Chief Officer Prentice and his Auchterarder based cliché sect. It's an excellent way of keeping yourself in the news - even if you have nothing original or interesting to say. The RTPI have been in a similar position for years but to my knowledge have never sought to place an article in a Sunday tabloid. But apparently the Sunday Herald is the STP's media partner so placing this article must have been quite easy.
We are Borg! We are STP!
I should say that RTPI are now part of the STP setup - they have been absorbed as a partner organisation. This is bad news for Wee Craigie McLaren's outfit as once again, they have sold their identity, autonomy and independence down the river of partnering and uttering mealy-mouth words in committees. Do they have anything left to give planners in Scotland?
We are RTPI - no sorry, we are Borg!
Described as 'Essay of the Week: Dreamscapes: imagining the perfect Scottish town', this article is a collection of some very familiar thoughts about 'silver bullet solutions', 'model towns', 'ugly roads that dissect towns' and 'sticking points'. Then Burnside drifts into the realms of the absurd such as suggesting samba dancing or martial arts in public spaces. I think Police Scotland would clamp down on that. Then we have birds, foxes, deer, bats, hedgehogs and voles - all very important to old Mrs McClure's newspaper shop - just like the dawn chorus on the way to work apparently. It's the low-hanging soup of planning. 
each town will be perfect!
You know, the trouble with Burnside is that he isn't a planner. All this talk of newts and toads reminds me of the great Honorary Doctor Donald Trump and his wonderful golf course at Menie on the Aberdeenshire coast. He crushed these small animals with his own feet because he saw that enterprise was more important than a few slugs in the corner of a field. To talk of 'the perfect Scottish town' is hopelessly naive. As an expert planner I can tell you that applying the intelligence of rich and clever people to any situation is always going to be better than cosying up to rabbits and ferrets.
our portal is our call to action
Of course you might wonder if the deeds of the STP should speak more loudly than their calls to action, their portal, their workshops and their clutch of Scottish experts like celebrity shopper Leigh Sparks and master of economics, Sir Robert Crawford CBE. This is the man who single-handedly implemented a fantastic range of initiatives that revolutionised the Scottish economy during his time at Scottish Enterprise.

We are portal!

I completely see why Chief Officer Prentice wants to get as much publicity as possible - he needs to perform for the Scottish Government so he is under a lot of pressure. My advice is to work quietly and achieve good things - if you haven't done anything worthwhile, just shut up.

All the best from Auchterness - have a great week. I'll be back again soon. Cheeriebye for now.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Scottish Towns Partnership - welcome to the hive!

In The Scottish Towns Partnership's Hall of Mirrors with Chief Officer Prentice and Julian Dobson
In the STP's Hall of Mirrors

You know, when I was investigating the secretive organisation known as EDAS last week, I came across a number of other organisations claiming to do the job of planners. It’s a crowded field with groups of hooded crows cackling away to each other on the fences beside the newly ploughed furrows of the regeneration landscape. Perhaps it’s more like an untidy nest of squawking nestlings, all shouting for attention.

Whether just noisy neighbours or cuckoos, one of the loudest seems to be the Scottish Towns Partnership (STP) whose Twitter handle is ‘the go-to body for town centres’. Exciting indeed! I was literally glued to the edge of my seat as their website opened. While bodies are usually dead, this one is ‘a hive of activity’ and a ‘repository for a wealth of intelligence … around policy conversations’ - not surprising really as it is getting a large sack of dosh from the Scottish Government to look busy and make a lot of noise. While much of the STP website text might have been written by Lewis Carroll, the organisation is clearly a major new cliché portal for planners and is therefore extremely important. I was entranced. It is an organisation that will have the entire staff of RTPI Scotland quaking in their plush Edinburgh HQ!

But wait! I was astounded to find that the Registered Office of STP is in Auchterarder - just like EDAS!  Truly this deservedly bypassed town is emerging as the centre for clichés in Scotland and for organisations trying to ape the expertise of real planners. The STP claims to partner with over 30 organisations in Scotland and seems to present itself as some sort of elite corps. That will be why the boss of the outfit, Chief Officer Prentice, has adopted a military title! A quick look at the Board members of STP reveals the usual suspects. It’s an Addams Family of folk on MBE watch. When I saw the name Robert Crawford I knew that this organisation was going to bring about radical change in Scottish Towns - just as Scottish Enterprise did with the Scottish economy when he was in charge! Apparently STP's ‘call to action will be the new national Towns Web Portal’. This is serious sabre-rattling and again, the RTPI will be shaking in their brown suits and suede shoes. 

Now you might ask where the local authorities are in this new landscape of expert organisations. Well I can tell you. Nowhere! Council planners are the customers - the second class citizens screened from view unless they can pay to attend events. This is an enterprise view of the world and is therefore completely welcome as far as I am concerned. If you don't have money you simply do not exist.

I’ve discussed this situation with robber barons from a number of local authorities (while I smirked inside) and they are sick of these so-called expert organisations. It’s a living death for most planners but they have brought it on themselves. While most of them have been sitting in their toilets for hours with the Daily Record or going on extended ’site visits’ to IKEA, the folks at the STP have been busy organising a blizzard of courses and other events at which planners will be told how stupid they are and lectured about what they are doing wrong. In this major new industry you pay to be patronised and insulted. Great isn’t it? It’s the Market in action!

Key shopper Leigh Sparks and Chair of STP recently gave a rundown of their recent Quarterly Board Meeting on his blog under the rather pretentious title of “Places of Possibility; Spaces of Opportunity”, which is rather close to the RTPI’s strapline ‘medication of space - making of place’ don’t you think? Appropriately this meeting was held at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh and was a day of cakes and scones, back-slapping, group-hugs and … well … storytelling. A friend of mine corroborated this and told me that significantly, the event was held in two rooms - firstly in an Echo Chamber then in a Hall of Mirrors.
Do you hear feedback or is that just the echo chamber?
I understand that some planners are organising a petition to Barton Willmore (aka RTPI Scotland) calling for an issue of the Barton Willmore Times (aka The Scottish Planner) to be dedicated to exposing this growth of unlicensed ’practitioners’. I expect that Wee Craigie McLaren will come down heavily on the man they call Chief Officer Prentice when he realises what the game is.
RTPI - life as an outcast - get used to it
RTPI - life as an outcast - get used to it
So it is death by a thousand cuts for a once loved planning profession that now exists as a hated underclass shuffling about on the periphery of the main event. Now anyone can step up to the table and do the job of a planner - but only after they have been to an STP event. For some it’s a scandal that has to be addressed by Barton Willmore as sponsors of RTPI Scotland. For others it is simply the concluding chapter of a story that has run its course. A soap opera started in 1914 that no one cares about anymore.

As I’ve said before, a good set of clichés is a precursor to success in the world of regeneration and planning. The Scottish Towns Partnership seems to be admirably equipped in this regard so good luck to Chief Officer Prentice and his magnificent new portal. It’s another smack in the face for planners and RTPI Scotland who should act now before it is too late. They have to lean into the strike zone and take one for the team, lance the boil and move forward effectively. And they have to do this immediately!
The Borg
My hearty congratulations go out to Chief Officer Prentice and the STP. They have stolen the RTPI’s clothes and reworded their strapline. I hope they enjoy their moment in the sun. They deserve every success. They are the New Borg! 

All the best from Auchterness - remember to drop in for a nice wee cup of tea and a biscuit if you are passing. Cheeriebye for now and take care when you are out and about.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The EDAS Route Map for Common Ambition

one of the regular EDAS backslapping sessions
one of the regular EDAS backslapping sessions

You know, you can wait for weeks for one good cliché to come along and then 58 come along at the same time! I was settling down to read the Scottish Government's Town Centre Masterplanning Toolkit the other day when my colleague Duncan came rushing into the office brandishing a six page document. It was called the EDAS Route Map for Common Ambition. Now Ordnance Survey, TomTom, First Group and Arriva all have route maps so why not EDAS? Useful I'm sure - and they don't want to be left out!

You might ask about EDAS itself - what is it and why? Well I can reveal that it is a secretive organisation apparently operating from a Council house in Auchterarder - and why not? Auchterarder needs all the help it can get! The organisation is chaired by my old boss Sir Robert Crawford CBE and I'm sure he is very comfortable working out of the cupboard beneath the stairs - well away from the goldfish bowl! You might have thought that the Economic Development Association Scotland might have had prestigious offices perhaps in Edinburgh or Glasgow but no. Mind you, being mean and a cheapskate is a sound approach to economics - most rich and clever people are mean! A quick look at the EDAS website reveals a glittering array of Directors and Executive Staff - a veritable smörgåsbord of unappealingly cold dishes. But it's a handy cut-out-and-keep list of Scottish do-gooders and faceless committee fodder looking for an OBE.

Anyway, Duncan was obviously distressed by this publication and was struggling to figure out what a Common Ambition might be. He said when he was young, a woman who picked her nose in public was called 'common' and why would anyone aspire to that? I stared at him in amazement as the dunked Rich Tea biscuit slowly fell into my mug of tea. I ushered him out of my office, offering to read the document at home that evening. I'm always keen to help staff whenever possible.

True to my word I settled down with a mug of Ovaltine to read the Route Map to Common Ambition that evening and I was amazed by what I read. Truly this is a work of great genius which articulates, develops and synthesises many discussion points. I was quivering with excitement after the first paragraph. At its core, this is an evolving policy analysis framework designed to ensure that key aspects of Scottish economic development are kept at the forefront of debate, analysis and comment. After the first page I had broken out in a sweat. By the time I had read "identify evidence and metrics that facilitate a pan-economic development community understanding of the policy area" I was in a lather of expectation. I felt as if a beautiful unmarried Russian damsel was massaging my ears with honey and perfumed water while her friend was digging my back garden.

Like a fine wine, I realised that this document was only going to improve with age. It was one of the most extensive collections of clichés I had ever come across. You see, planners need clichés - it is the way that they communicate with each other and without them we would be lost. And an Expert Planner needs Expert Clichés.

I decided to pace myself and went for a walk in the garden, promising to read it later. As I was passing the rhubarb bed it occurred to me that I had held in my hands the very means to enable the economic future of our lovely wee country. After my brief walk I resumed my analysis of this seminal work and became exhausted by the sheer bravado and intellectual endeavour of it all. I slept soundly.

The next day I asked Duncan to come to my room. His mood hadn't improved. I explained to him that this was a magnificent document that represented one of the highest peaks of intellectual thought focused on economic development seen so far in the history of Scotland and that I was deeply moved by almost every sentence. He was furious and accused me of being a crawler, a puppet and a simpleton. "How can you say this is a great document when you probably don't understand a single sentence?" I bridled. "It's written in some of the worst management speak you will ever come across! It is pretentious junk from beginning to end!" I advised him to watch his language or he would be facing disciplinary action. I tried to explain to him that it was necessary to write like this so that no one would understand it - in that way you make the document seem important and exclusive. He snatched the document from my desk and put it through the shredder. "I have better things to do than talk to people like you!" he shouted as he slammed the door. There will be an official response to his impertinence.

Whatever my members of staff think, I heartily recommend this magnificent collection of ideas to everyone. Well done Bob, EDAS and all the other contributors - a great piece of work. Cheeriebye from Auchterness and have a great week. I'll be back soon.