Kate Thick: The Davos Forum is committed to improving the state of the world

Journal columnist Kate Thick on the important discussions in Switzerland - and the equally important decisions in Northumberland

PA Wire
From left: German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Foreign Minister of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and CEO of Henkel AG Kasper Rorsted of Danemark, attend a panel discussion entitled "The Geopolitical Outlook" at the World Economic Forum, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. The world's financial and political elite will head this week to the Swiss Alps for 2015's gathering of the World Economic Forum at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

There is a man in Paris, Thomas Piketty, I would like to hug. His wife need not worry as, to be accurate, it is his ideas that deserve a squeeze.

He wasn’t in Davos for the World Economic Forum but an increasing number of those who attended are taking on board this French economist’s proposals for squaring wealth and democracy, on how to prevent the social fabric unravelling.

These were my thoughts while sitting in Morpeth library, a local sanctuary whose future is precarious, as are other local services.

Upstairs at the library, besides myself, was a gentleman at reception exuding calm and kindness as he gave advice to visitors; a man glued to a computer logged into a live webcam of a bird’s nest; a girl with earphones studying at a table covered in a sea of books; and a man sitting in a comfy chair reading a newspaper who, if appearances are anything to go by, is definitely not one of the 1%.

The Forum is committed to improving the state of the world but, I wondered, did anyone there care about my lovely library?

Though enrichment and glitzy parties are the main draw for many at Davos, delegates flocked to serious discussions about how to build a fairer, more sustainable world. Davos has gradually opened its door to civil society, NGOs and the more mainstream lobbyists for alternatives to raw capitalism.

Indeed, the executive director of Oxfam International was one of the co-chairs of this year’s meeting. Critics of the Forum say it is just a talking shop committed to improving the state of the world … provided nothing much changes.

Even optimists like me would find it hard to claim that anything which has ever happened in Davos has changed the lives of ordinary people.

This is in stark contrast to the social glue of libraries; the sheer wealth of resources and information they provide is a vital part of our communities. A hollowing out of such services in the North East would be devastating.

I will be scanning the news this week for the outcome of ruminations at Davos. More pertinent, I will be keeping track of the Northumberland County Council Economic Prosperity Scrutiny Committee meeting discussions on the Medium Term Financial Plan 2015-2019 and Budget 2015-2017.

The Plan and Budget will be presented to the Policy Board who will make formal recommendations to the county council. As reported in The Journal last week, library closures are likely with local government taking the brunt of funding reductions. Our councils have generally managed well through skilful juggling of shrinking budgets but the going will get tougher.

Northumberland County Council needs to save £44m into 2017. This is on top of the £160msavings that have been made since 2009 due to austerity cuts. Active Northumberland, a charity and not-for-profit limited company, has been constituted to manage some services across the county; the board consists of councillors, partner organisations and local groups. This will put leisure, libraries, tourism, and culture under one umbrella with the aim of providing an integrated modern service. I am in no position to judge if this is the best way forward but I wish them well.

There is good news. Action with Communities in Rural England is the national voice for the 38 community councils making up the country’s largest rural network. They reach the thousands of grassroots organisations running community transport schemes and oil-buying clubs, upgrading village halls, assessing housing needs and supporting older people to stay in their homes. Community Action Northumberland (CAN) is one of our local rural arms of government. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the single-largest source of CAN’s income, confirmed last week that it will again provide £58,000 – for this year anyway.

Mind the gap as they say. Is there any level of trust or understanding between the 99% who have never attended Davos and the top 1% that always do? There was no live webcam between Davos and my library but ideas are unstoppable and trickle down even if money does not.

Mr Piketty has a foot on the path from heretic to hero, methinks. I am sure he would be happy to visit my library, a haven only in need of a café to ensure perfection. Providing it stays open that is.


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