New York Times claims Prescot, Merseyside is being ruined by Tory cuts

Lies and distortion: The New York Times claims a Merseyside town has been brought to its knees by ‘Tory cuts’. One problem – it ignores the millions of public money transforming the area, writes GUY ADAMS

Hot cakes were flying off the shelves, exactly as the old saying says they should, at the Albion Bakehouse in Prescot yesterday.

The trendy independent cafe, just off the Merseyside commuter town’s pedestrianised High Street, opened three years ago and has been a roaring success, selling ‘artisan’ products made from local ingredients to the local community.

Its owners are about to expand, opening a sister bistro in a nearby redbrick townhouse which, like many of the town’s historic buildings, was recently restored thanks to a financial grant from the Lottery-funded Townscape Heritage Initiative.

‘People in Prescot are very proud of their community,’ says manager Ally Garside. ‘Like all town centres, we’ve had our troubles. 

A huge Tesco and an M&S opened a few years back, which of course had an effect on the High Street. 

But a lot of public funding has arrived in recent years, and new businesses are opening everywhere, so there’s a real buzz about the place.’

The New York Times has come under fire for its portrayal of Prescot in Merseyside as being torn apart by Tory austerity. Pictured: Town’s new fire and police station  

At tea-time, Ms Garside was rushed off her feet catering to hungry half-term shoppers.

A short walk away, near the station, builders were toiling away on a new Shakespeare-themed boutique hotel, which will open in 2020 at the same time as a new theatre dedicated to the Bard, also under construction at a cost of more than £20 million, at least half of which comes from the taxpayer.

Were it not for the incessant rain, which had driven many shoppers indoors, one might have been tempted to describe Prescot as vibrant. 

And while it may never make anyone’s list of British beauty spots, the town certainly has a buzz about it.

To most people who know the area, that is, but not for readers of the New York Times.

For earlier this week, the paper of record to America’s chattering classes published a lengthy report from this corner of the world. 

Carried on the front page, it was headlined: ‘In Britain, Austerity is changing everything.’

Pictured: The New York Times claimed the town’s pool had been shut down, but in reality its got a £16million new leisure centre (pictured) 

The 3,500-word article, written in the breathless manner of a dispatch from a shell-ridden war zone, was based around a singular thesis. 

That, in the words of its opening paragraph: ‘A walk through this modest town in the northwest of England amounts to a tour of the casualties of Britain’s age of austerity.’

Specifically, it claimed, cuts to public services since David Cameron became prime minister in 2010 have ‘delivered a monumental shift in British life,’ while measures of ‘social well-being . . . point to a deteriorating quality of life’.

Similar arguments have been voiced endlessly by the British Left over the past eight years, even as unemployment has relentlessly fallen to record lows and overall government spending has continually grown.

To this end, the New York Times reporter Peter Goodman, who works as the paper’s European economics correspondent, offered a hard-hitting range of evidence to support his contention that Prescot has, in recent years, been ravaged by the fallout from austerity.

‘The old library building has been sold and refashioned into a glass-fronted luxury home,’ he said. 

‘The leisure centre has been razed, eliminating the public swimming pool. The local museum has receded into town history. The police station has been shuttered.’

This is a depressing roll-call. Or at least it would be, but for a few awkward facts. Namely: almost every single one of the New York Times’s key claims was either deeply misleading, or completely untrue.

Not mentioned: The town will get a £20million theatre and arts centre that will open in 2020

Take, for example the contention that Prescot’s leisure centre has been ‘razed’ because of Tory cuts. This is utter nonsense.

What actually happened was that, in 2008 — before austerity measures were introduced and when a Labour government was in power — the town’s [Labour] council decided its Scotchbarn Swimming Baths had, to quote a local newspaper, ‘come to the end of their lifespan and needed to be replaced’. It was therefore decided to build a vast new one, on the site of a former school two miles away.

In 2011, a year after the Tories helped form a government, it was completed. The swanky venue, Knowsley Leisure and Culture Park, is hugely enjoyed by locals. It has two 25-metre pools, a sports hall, gym, dance studio and spa. 

Outside is a 400-metre velodrome and BMX track ‘built to national competition standard’, having been completed in 2012.

On the financial front, this new facility cost £16.1 million, largely in public money. The velodrome cost another £1.4 million — being funded by British Cycling and Sports England.

So much for ‘Tory cuts’ and austerity!

Library and museum: The New York Times claimed they were closed down but they have actually received record visitor numbers 

Then there’s Prescot police station, which according to the New York Times has also been ‘shuttered’.

In fact, while the town’s historic HQ in Derby Street is no more, a modern purpose-built police station recently opened nearby.

The large building, which cost taxpayers £5.3 million, is also home to the local fire service. 

Indeed, its opening in January meant that the town had its own fire station for the first time since 1946.

While the new building was designed to save taxpayers money — replacing two facilities and costing around £800,000-a-year less to run — there was no mention in the New York Times of its existence. How careless!

What, meanwhile, should we make of the American paper’s claim about the demise of Prescot’s library and museum?

According to the New York Times, these public services have both fallen victim to austerity: the paper claims one is now a ‘luxury’ home, the other has ‘receded into the town’s history’.

Pictured: Prescot shopping centre. One outraged reader tweeted today: ‘Prescot is positively changing and that doesn’t show in the article. Still lots of issues like any other town but #WeBelieveinPrescot!’

The truth, however, is that both facilities are thriving. In 2012, they moved from their old homes to new premises in the town’s shopping centre, which were refurbished at a cost of £1.2 million.

In the month after the move, library attendances rose by 57 per cent and membership applications doubled. 

An average of 4,000 extra people a week visited the shopping centre, to the delight of local traders.

‘I am thrilled by how popular [the change] is already proving to be,’ declared Ron Round, the (Labour) leader of Knowsley Council. 

‘We are providing superb facilities for our customers and it is clear that we are enhancing their experience.’

Again, so much for ‘Tory cuts’!

Perhaps most bizarrely, at least to the good people of Prescot, the New York Times article also ignored perhaps the most important piece of public investment in their town’s long history.

A couple of years ago, the site of the former museum building was acquired by the Shakespeare North Trust, a charity that is masterminding the creation of an enormous new theatre and arts centre.

The 350-seat venue will be a replica of the Prescot Playhouse which stood in the town during the Elizabethan era, and was the first free-standing theatre built outside London. 

This private walled estate and stately home Knowsley Hall in Prescot is considered a Merseyside icon

Its design is inspired by Inigo Jones, the famous 17th-century architect.

Also on the site will be an educational facility where Liverpool John Moores University will offer a masters degree in Shakespearean acting technique.

The cost of this will be more than £20 million, with £6 million coming from the local council and £5 million from central government. 

Building work began last month and is expected to create 210 construction jobs and 57 full-time ones once the facility opens in 2020, bringing £10 million a year into the local economy.

A host of new restaurants, bars and cafes are already being opened to cater to visitors to the site, along with the aforementioned boutique hotel. Many are, of course, being financed with the help of public grants.

Quite why the New York Times chose to ignore all this, when describing Prescot as a case study in the evils of austerity, is anyone’s guess, but the local newspaper has claimed the American article ‘tells only half of the story’.

Local shop owner Louise Gillespie, who runs a clothing boutique, says of the article’s author, Peter Goodman: ‘I have heard what he’s been saying and it’s rubbish. 

‘I have been trading here for four years and things are going from strength to strength.’

Prescot: Peter S. Goodman set the tone when he wrote that a stroll through this ‘modern town in the northwest of England amounts to a tour of the casualties of Britain’s age of austerity’

While of course it’s inconceivable that the New York Times — which created the famous slogan ‘All the News That’s Fit To Print’ as a declaration of the paper’s intention to report the news impartially and which still appears on the paper’s masthead — had an agenda when it commissioned the article, some of the reporter’s more purple passages of prose are open to misinterpretation.

For example, he says that ‘a quarter-century ago, Prescot had a comforting village feel’.

In fact, the Merseyside town, which borders Knowsley and is a short distance from the M57 motorway, was at that time home to a number of large and distinctly un-villagey warehouses and industrial facilities.

Life was also less than idyllic. As a 1993 article from the Independent newspaper, covering a new factory opening there, noted: ‘Knowsley in Merseyside is one of the UK’s unemployment blackspots with an average jobless rate of nearly 20 per cent and male unemployment nudging 30 per cent.’

Little wonder, perhaps, that Christopher Snowdon, an economist at the Right-leaning Institute of Economic Affairs, took to Twitter this week to highlight some of the article’s many shortcomings.

‘I haven’t got past the first two paragraphs of this NYT article about British ‘austerity’ but I’m already getting a strong smell of bulls***,’ he wrote, saying that they were riddled with ‘claims that are either deeply misleading or outright lies’.

Goodman responded that he stood by his claim that the local police station has been ‘shuttered’ saying: ‘This is a consolidation. Moreover people in the village [sic] feel a loss. 

‘If you want to argue with them, that’s fine, but it’s a widespread perception in Prescot.’

Then the Spectator magazine weighed in. In a lengthy ‘fact-checking’ article, it pointed out that while the New York Times article suggests that ‘factories sit empty, broken monuments to another age,’ David Cameron and Theresa May have presided over faster job creation than any other prime ministers in British history.

While the American article also grumbles about Brexit, saying it will ‘depress growth for years to come,’ unemployment in Britain is now at 4.2 per cent, a 43-year low, and disposable household income is at a record high.

Meanwhile, despite endless claims to the contrary by the Left, inequality has fallen since 2010, according to an economic index called the Gini coefficient, which measures how evenly income is distributed across a population.

Perhaps most important, government expenditure has risen every single year since the Tories took office in 2010, rising from £717 billion a year back then to £797 billion today, according to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. By the end of this Parliament, it’s expected to be £898 billion a year.

Government spending now stands a 38 per cent of GDP, higher than it was during most of Tony Blair’s time in office. Again, so much for ‘Tory cuts’ and austerity.

Or as Prescot resident Moira Strangeway, 86, put it yesterday: ‘I like Americans, but I sometimes wish they would keep their noses out of our business.’

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