The Guardian's campaign to investigate last summer's riots are being questioned by the Leader of Salford City Council, as only seven people from the area were interviewed out of 270.
The council leader John Merry is sceptical of ‘Reading the Riots’, a campaign launched in September last year by The Guardian and the London School of Economics which interviewed 270 people directly involved in the disturbances.
A panel of guests, including Mr Merry, and the public agreed that there was widespread reluctance within the public to speak to police, with riots researcher Helen Clifton expanding on this by saying that people in Salford are cautious about speaking to outsiders in general.
Mr Merry was outraged at this statistic, given that 185 interviews were conducted in London. “We should treat this research with considerable scepticism in relation to Salford,” he said.
Now in its second phase, the teams are going into the communities affected by the riots to ask local people why they think it happened and what should be done to stop people taking to streets again.
The panel of guests, including youth worker Graham Cooper and Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan of Greater Manchester Police, were invited to answer questions as part of the debate.
In a statement to the House of Commons after the riots, David Cameron said: “It is criminality pure and simple.” Mr Cameron added that gangs lay at the heart of the issue, a view shared by Chief Superintendent Mulligan, but one which divided the panel.
Graham Cooper, from The Broughton Trust in East Salford, spoke to more than 40 people directly involved with the disturbances, he said: “Local gangs put aside their differences on that day, there was no gang leader orchestrating anything.”
In his opinion the reason for the riot in Salford was clear, people wanted to hit back at the police.
He explained that the Stop and Search police tactic was raised repeatedly by rioters as a major cause of their resentment towards the police.
“Young people said they felt they were targeted without reason and not treated with respect,” he added.
The erosion of communication channels linking police to residents was also blamed for the poor relations, although Chief Superintendent Mulligan disagreed, arguing that there were opportunities to meet the police in the community but did admit they could be better.
Out of the 270 interviews held, only seven were from Salford, which Ms Clifton said was due to their unwillingness to be formally interviewed.
There were serious concerns over the level of budget cuts to youth and community services which are heavily relied upon and massively under-resourced.
Panel member Gerry Stone from Seedley and Langworthy Trust explained how a lot of her colleagues are now serving redundancy.
“The community sector is losing so much, I don’t know how we’ll ever get it back,” she said.
One comment which surfaced in both the formal and informal interviews was the reference to the riots as, ‘the best day of my life’.
This sparked lively discussion on what could be done to give young people something to value, qualifications to work towards and the provision of jobs that pay a decent wage.
Mr Merry reacted by saying that Salford would not survive as a low wage economy which riled some of the members of the public who reminded him that when investments such as MediaCity UK only take on 26 people from Salford, they are left with little choice but take the lower paid jobs.
When asked how Salford could avoid a reoccurrence of the violence and vandalism, Mr Cooper said that there needs to be more accountability within what he described as a ‘carrousel of agencies’.
He wants to see one agency working with one family, supporting the parents as well as the children, trying to break the cycle of generations of unemployment within a household.
Creating apprenticeships was the council leader’s focus but he sounded less convincing when asked how he would ensure future investment would have more of an impact on Salford.
“Things aren’t going to change instantly, we’ll know in twenty years time,” he said.
Speaking after the event Daniel Silver director of Social Action and Research Foundation, organisers of the Salford debates, said he was pleased with the results.
“To get over 120 people discussing the riots in March is a real achievement,” he said.
Social Action & Research Foundation will be collating the information from the evening, and developing more in depth work with local communities that could not attend. They aim to complete this work by the early summer this year.