Tackling the inequalities holding our city back

Cllr John Cotton

Cllr John Cotton

A year on from the riots, Cabinet Member for Social Cohesion and Equalities, Cllr John Cotton, looks at the challenges facing Birmingham.

A year on, the memories of what happened on Birmingham’s streets last summer remain vivid and disturbing.

For many, the scenes of looters and smashed shop windows come instantly and understandably to mind.

But I have another powerful memory of that time. It’s of the day after the disturbances, when people from across our city picked up their brooms, rolled up their sleeves and joined forces to clean up our streets and deliver a resounding “not in our name and not in our city” message.

I think that sense of unity, of common purpose and determination to stand together, gives us the platform upon which we can begin to tackle the complex web of reasons that led to the grim events of August 2011.

This isn’t about finding an excuse for what happened. Violence and criminality is never acceptable and those who break the law must pay the price in full.

But I think we have to match our robust response to those who break the law with an equal determination to tackle some of the root causes. That means asking ourselves some tough questions about the society we live in and how it needs to change.

Birmingham in 2012 faces some big challenges. There are still too many of our fellow citizens without work or even the hope of a job. Too many of our kids are leaving school without the skills and qualifications they need to get a chance of a decent career. Our life chances and in some cases our life expectancy, is often determined by the neighbourhood we live in.

This isn’t just unfair. It is actively holding our city back. If we continue to tolerate this situation, we are sabotaging Birmingham’s future prospects.

That’s why tackling the deep-rooted inequalities that scar parts of our city is one of the City Council’s key priorities.

Of course, we don’t have all the answers, so we are working alongside our partners in other public sector agencies, from business, the voluntary sector and with local communities themselves. Like those residents who took to the streets to take back their city last August, we will be making common cause to challenge the causes of deprivation.

So, twelve months on, we’ve done a lot, but there’s still an enormous amount to do. Let’s press on and ensure that the drive to make Birmingham fairer and stronger place is the real legacy of those ugly scenes a year ago.

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