Tagged: call centres

North East England: Britain’s Detroit?

Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.

Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.

More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.

> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.

When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.

Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.

> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.

Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.

According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.

At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.

Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.

For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?

In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”

And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.

The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”

From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.

The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.

As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.

But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.

The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.

If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.

He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”

Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.

There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”

It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”

Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.

“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”

Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.

It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”

In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.

The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.

Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.

Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.

In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.

Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”

> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.

In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.

In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.

Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.

Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.

I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.

Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.

Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.”Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”

How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”

Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.

Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.

The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.

But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”

It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!

We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.

Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.

Source – The Guardian  10 May 2014

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Hundreds of temporary jobs to go at Nissan’s Sunderland plant

> Its only a couple of months since we were being told that the automotive sector, based mainly around Nissan and its suppliers, were the way forward for employment locally.

I commented at the time that this “eggs-all-in-one-basket” approach was previously applied to the advent of call centres, and that didn’t work out too well.

This doesn’t herald the collapse of the automotive industry locally, but it does mean more people back on the dole, and probably some knock-on effects on Nissan’s suppliers.

 

Nissan is to cut hundreds of temporary jobs at its Sunderland factory.

The car giant announced today it is to cease 24-hour production on line two at the factory, which builds the Juke and Note.

The move will see the workforce reduced by 365, though the firm expects the number of workers affected to be less, due to staff turnover. The cuts will be limited to staff on temporary contracts.

Nissan has recruited 2,000 people to the Sunderland workforce in the past two years to support a £1billion investment programme.

After making more than 500,000 cars in each of the last two years, 24-hour working on both lines was introduced in January.

But the firm announced to staff this morning that demand no longer justifies running three shifts beyond the summer and Line 2 will return to two-shift operations from mid-June.

At the end of this period we expect headcount at Sunderland to be around 6,700, supporting two-shift operations on Line 2 with 24-hour operations continuing across the rest of the site,” said a spokesman.

Source – Sunderland Echo   02 May 2014

Hey, Kid – Wanna Job In The Automotive Sector ?

Blame the teachers time again –

Schools failing to prepare North East pupils for career in automotive sector

– declares the headline in the Newcastle Journal, and continues:

Schools are failing to encourage children to consider a career in manufacturing – and the economy of the North East may suffer as a result, a major new study has found.

Pupils in Sunderland are not being given the advice they need to make an informed choice about their future career, said think tank IPPR North, with girls in particular failing to consider careers in science, engineering or technology.

Researchers from IPPR North worked with two schools in the city to examine the attitudes of pupils towards a career in manufacturing, and particularly in the automotive sector.

As part of the study, they arranged for pupils to visit Nissan’s factory in Sunderland, and asked them whether this had changed their attitudes towards manufacturing.

The think tank warned: “Employment avenues for young people are not being closed off so much as never being opened. A systemic lack of interaction between schools and businesses is restricting the career options of young people in Britain.”

The failure to interest girls in science, technology, engineering or maths – the so-called STEM subjects – was robbing the sector of potential future employees, said the report.

> With such high levels of local unemployment ? Pull the other one ! There is probably going to always be be more people than there are jobs, so hardly a lack of potential employees. Many of them will already have the necessery skills, and if they haven’t they could learn them… if the employers were willing to invest in a little training, of course. But that would probably bite into short-term profits.

It warned: “The lack of interest in post-GCSE STEM subjects and vocational education among girls is a cause for concern given that skills shortages in these sectors are looming.”

IPPR focused on the automotive sector because of its importance to the economy of the North East – and it said there is “evidence to suggest the automotive sector would continue to grow in the coming years”, making it even more significant. Around 1.5 million cars and commercial vehicles and three million engines are produced annually in the UK, and 70% of vehicles manufactured here are exported.

> Hmmm… and its not so long ago that call centres were being touted as the big new thing. Which they may have been momentarily, but as soon as the companies found they could transfer the work to low-wage (and thus higher profit) economies overseas, you didn’t see them for dust. Anyone want to bet the automotive sector wouldn’t do the same if it was deemed profitable ?

Nissan’s plant in Washington is Europe’s most productive car manufacturing site, responsible for one in three of all cars produced in the UK.

> It’s also generally understood locally  (but unprovable) that Nissan don’t employ anyone over the age of 30. Not much hope for the older unemployed there.

However, the think tank warned that manufacturers were concerned about the lack of available skilled labour in the UK, which could limit future investment in the country.

> People aren’t born with the skills for a particular industry fully formed. What’s wrong with the companies involved training workers to the required level ? They always used to.

It also pointed out that “pay tends to be significantly higher for graduate engineers than for most other graduates”, but young people considering their future career were not aware of this.

> But not everyone can be a graduate engineer, nor is that the only job in manufacturing. Perhaps kids realise this. Or perhaps they just think there’s more to life than selling their souls to an industry that may up sticks and move abroad if they think it in their interests.

The study warned: “Given the importance of both good careers advice and business-school interaction in shaping the choices that young people make, it is essential that Government, schools and businesses take action to plug future skills gaps and change the perceptions of those who might potentially be attracted towards careers in the automotive industry, and in engineering more widely.”

> School are like government training schemes – you might get a nice certificate, but it does not prepare you for the world of work. But why blame the schools, it’s not their role to provide factory fodder, surely ?

Once again we seem to be rushing to put all the eggs in one basket – mining, shipbuilding, call centres, automotive … in a year or two the same claims will be made again about the next transient  industry, and all the unemployed automotive workers will be told they dont have the right skills and so must retrain…and so on ad infinitum.

But don’t blame the schools.
Source – Newcastle Journal  01 Feb 2014

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 2)

So there I am with an invitation to attend an interview with a Jobcentre personal adviser as part  Post Work Programme Support (PWPS).

“Now you have completed your time on the Work Programme”  I am informed, “your personal adviser will assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”

Readers may wonder what the hell the point of the previous two years of Work Programme (WP) had been, if not  to “assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”  Apart, obviously,  from making money for a bunch of private companies (Ingeus in my case) who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.

Anyhow, off I trot to the Jobcentre. I always think it’s a good idea to play it cool on these initial interviews,  let them take the lead. There are good reasons for keeping your powder dry during these early encounters. For one thing, you might be lucky enough to have drawn a decent human being as your adviser – it can happen.

My previous Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) had been drawn up prior to my starting WP by one such decent adviser, who listened to my points, agreed they were fair enough and we quickly put together a JSAg we could both live with. Everyone was happy, no conflict or stress.

Thinking about it, I realised that I hadn’t seen him around the jobcentre for some considerable time, so perhaps he was sacked for not sanctioning enough people, or perhaps quit in disgust at the way things were going. He was a gentleman, and there are all too few of them in the DWP.

So, as I say – hold back at first, see which way the cookie crumbles. If your adviser is a wrong ‘un, they’ll think you’re another subservient sanction-fodder and will start to take liberties. Give them enough rope now and later you’ll be able to, if not exactly lynch them, at least give them some severe rope-burns to remember you by.

So I sat and watched him instantly tear into my existing JSAg, took notes and laid my plans accordingly.

He didn’t like anything about it, starting with the three “types of job I am looking for”. Now this bit always annoys me – we’re constantly being told that we must be flexible, willing to consider all types of jobs, etc… then they demand that you limit yourself to three ! Where’s the logic ?  I always point this out to the adviser, then put three jobs I have done and feel confident that,  if I should get an interview for one tomorrow,  I could go along, walk the walk, talk the talk and generally appear to actually know something about the job.

Not good enough for this guy, though. He immediately erased one of my choices and replaced it with ‘Assembly’.  I pointed out (meekly, still playing that role) that I had no prior experience of assembly work and indeed wasn’t even quite sure what it entails. Not important, apparently. He wanted Assembly on there, and that was that.

At this point it might be useful to refer back to an article in the Guardian a couple of years ago in which a DWP whistleblower lifted the lid on some of the tricks advisers use to sanction people. In particular –

He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. “So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.

I think that was what this adviser was up to.   (Read whole Guardian article here – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions  )

Of course, the joke is that my CV is probably one of the most diverse you’ll find anywhere. Starting with A for Archaeology and working through the alphabet to W for Warehouse (my dream job would be in a zoo, so I could really claim an A-Z of job titles) – although it should be pointed out that at no time did this adviser enquire about previous experience or ask to see my CV. I might well be able to work in assembly (whatever it is) for all I know, and I’m not ruling it out you understand – but replacing a job I have a track record record in with one I know nothing about, well it just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it ?

Except, of course, as an instrument of sanction.

And so it continued – he went his merry way, changing just about everything, ticking boxes, all with no discussion with me. I sat back and watched him have his fun.

Then it was my turn. He printed off two copies of the revised JSAg signed them, then  gave them to me to sign. I took a minute or two to read through it, then said:

“No, sorry, I can’t sign these.”

Wonderful ! You’d have thought I’d just punched him in the face (something I had admittedly been thinking about while watching him deconstruct my JSAg). I think these bullying individuals have become so used to pushing through these dodgy JSAgs that it comes as something as a shock when somebody tells them “no”. Playing the meek role encourages them to over-reach themselves, as they feel there’s nothing to stop them.

The interview time was just about up by now and his next victim was waiting, and so, after a bit of huffing and  puffing he said we’d have to continue this at our next meeting.

 “Fine,” I said, “Look forward to it”.   He looked less than enthralled at the prospect.

As I was walking away I remembered something, so turned back.

“I assume that my original JSAg is still in force ?”

He didn’t seem sure, but then decided “No, as you haven’t signed the new one, you have no JSAg at the moment.”

Hah ! Caught you in a lie !

In fact, until such a time as a new JSAg is signed by both parties, the old one remains in operation. It’s worth remembering that, and asking them the same question. If they tell you no, then that’s something to note down for use in a future appeal.

To be continued…