But the biggest lie of all must be the oft-repeated myth that Worthing has been found to be "the most prosperous town in Britain". This nasty globule of undigested falsity has been coughed up again by the Winter 2005 edition of 'Your Worthing', a zero-interest publication that seems to have been published by the Worthing Town Centre Initiative.
You don't need a brain the size of the Victor Gladwish Stadium to work out that the claim obviously isn't true and we will explain later exactly why that is so. But even without the facts, a brief moment's thought reveals the idea of Worthing being anything like the most prosperous town in Britain to be totally absurd.
Look at our neighbouring towns. Is Worthing really more prosperous than Brighton, to the east, with its migrating London wine bar set, trendy media poseurs and seafront millionaires? More prosperous than Horsham, to the north, with its well-heeled commuter belt population or Chichester, to the west, with its green welly and Barbour jacket brigade? And that's just Sussex, let alone the rest of the country.
If Worthing is such a prosperous town, how come, when the national average salary is about £22,000 a year, the Worthing Herald jobs pages are full of adverts for work at £5.65 an hour, £5.75 an hour, £11,780 a year, £13,400 a year, £5.35 an hour... look for yourself!
If Worthing is so prosperous, how come thousands of people have to commute miles to work and back every day to earn a wage that will pay their mortgage or rent? How come young people can't afford their own home, even a tiny flat? How come Worthing people are knackering themselves with overtime just to make ends meet, or can't get any work at all, or are clearing out the toilets at old people's homes for a minimum wage to pay for the kids' school uniform or the ever spiralling council tax? What kind of prosperous town is that?
Of course, the whole prosperous thing is just not true. And the reality is pretty much the exact opposite. In fact, the survey misquoted by ‘Your Worthing' found our town to be the most profitable in the country - profitable for companies, that is, with the average profit margin recorded at 22.29 per cent in 2001.
Other official statistics back this up. For instance, the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2004 found that Worthing residents' average pre-tax pay is only £413 a week, compared to £442 for West Sussex as a whole and £474 for the whole South East - and that includes residents who have to commute out of town for a half decent wage.
What this means for the people of Worthing, can be gauged by the company we were keeping in the ‘profitability league', which now seems to have been abandoned. Second place in 2001 went to Brecon in South Wales - hardly an area known for its wealth - and Gateshead, infamous for unemployment, finished 9th. Experian, the firm behind the survey, acknowledged that "some towns can be highly profitable while still suffering high unemployment and social deprivation". And Tim Preston, head of economic development at Worthing Borough Council, was quoted as saying: "The results mask some of the problems in Worthing's economy, notably low wages compared to other areas of the South East and problems of deprivation in some parts of the town."
County planning officer John Kilford spelled it out more plainly still at a meeting in Worthing's Richmond Room in July 2000 (see issue 30), explaining: "What is particularly significant is that wages are low and the take home pay of part-time and full-time workers compares with the lowest in the country." So in fact, it's the low wages here that make companies so porkin' profitable - prosperity for the businessmen and poverty for the rest of us!
PS: We're looking forward to the factual correction in the next issue of 'Your Worthing'!
IT'S nice to know that Worthing MP Tim Loughton isn't suffering from the low wage crisis in his constituency. The Tory politician earns £57,485 as his standard backbench salary and, latest figures reveal, topped this up with £124,857 worth of expenses in 2004/2005, making a grand total for the year of £182,342. The maximum that can be claimed for overnight stays away from home is £20,902 and our Tim, who lives an hour's train ride from the House of Commons in Burgess Hill, claimed... exactly £20,902! That's about £60 a night, 365 nights a year. What the pork has he been up to?
* More Titnore news below...
When it comes to leisure, there's a 10% fall in the level of satisfaction between 2003 and 2005. Meanwhile, during the last twelve months 38% had visited museums and galleries (note the amazing plural, as Worthing Borough Council only run the one!), and satisfaction fell 8%. 60% of residents had visited Worthing's theatres over the last year. Between 2003 and 2005 the level of satisfaction dropped from 68% to 64% - whilst the level of dissatisfaction also rose from 9% to 12%.
And residents' dissatisfaction has grown, at the same time as Worthing Borough Council has slashed budgets for the Museum & Art Gallery, theatres and sports facilities. Some coincidence? So what does the press release say that Worthing Borough Council are going to do about all this dissatisfaction? Leader of the council, Keith Mercer says "The general satisfaction survey will be carried out again in 2006 as part of our aim to find out what the public thinks." So in terms of actual action that's, errr, nothing.
That's the question being asked by local campaigners, after a nasty display of intimidation at a completely peaceful and legitimate protest. The dubious role of the local cops in perverting the course of free speech started a week before the protest when they issued a press release to the local press suggesting that the "Vigil for the Death of Democracy" was illegal. In fact, this was a blatant fib - there is no legal obligation to inform the police in advance of a static demonstration such as the one advertised by TEA (Titnore Emergency Action). But as a result, we have heard from a number of local people that they were scared off attending, worried they would get arrested or beaten up by the police. The Death of Democracy indeed!
On the day, there was massive over-policing, with cops drafted in from as far away as Hastings, 50 miles away. They used draconian public order laws to cordon off the Titnore Lane area and one man was arrested for being on the pavement on the ‘wrong' side of the road, as decreed by the local Gestapo.
Among various other incidents, one couple who live in Titnore Lane itself were blocked from returning to their own home when the protest had ended. They were manhandled by police and after a long delay were eventually only allowed up the road with an escort of two police on foot, with video camera, two police motorbikes with flashing lights, and an unmarked police car. When they reached their home, a police helicopter arrived overhead and circled three times. They said: "It was bad enough at the roundabout with everything happening, but when we got back to our own home and there's a helicopter circling overhead, we thought ‘what the f*** is going on!'."
Other local people arriving early for the vigil at the Titnore Lane roundabout on the A259 were told by police that they would not be allowed to stay there after 2pm - the advertised start of the vigil. Cops tried to hand pieces of paper to everyone arriving, outlining restrictions on where people could protest. It seems the police were planning to force the vigil away from the highly visible roundabout and into an "authorised" protest zone where they could not be seen.
With video-camera wielding "evidence gatherers" creating a mood of intimidation, people were given constantly shifting instructions as to where they were "permitted" to stand. Sometimes they were not allowed to cross the road and sometimes they had to. A group of people who decided to use the footbridge over the A259 were told this was not permitted because it represented a traffic hazard. Earlier on, these same people had been directed to use the bridge by police. When the vigil ended at 4pm, evidence gatherers followed a group of protesters to Goring station and continued filming them until they boarded the train towards Worthing.
* The arrested man was charged with "failure to obey conditions imposed on a public assembly" and will be pleading not guilty, with a court date in mid-April at Worthing Magistrates Court.
"It was a very peaceful demonstration but the police were totally excessive. Some of the officers were in riot gear and their presence was totally over the top." An ‘onlooker' quoted in The Argus, October 31.
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