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.

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