Tagged: Financial Times

How the ancient North East counties were lost – and with it our identities

It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.

And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.

Why? Identity.

Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bibleWisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.

Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.

Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.

It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.

“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.

“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”

Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.

> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ?  Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.

And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.

It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.

In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.

There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.

Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.

As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.

They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.

“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”

The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.

Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.

> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.

Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.

Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.

Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.

In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.

Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.

To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.

> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.

He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.

Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”

He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.

“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.

* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.

> Sounds like another “intellectual”  telling people what they should be doing.

People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.

Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire.  If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously. 

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014

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Labour Brands ‘Youth Contract’ An ‘Abject Failure’ As Flagship Unemployment Scheme Ends Early

The Government’s £1 billion Youth Contract scheme is to end a month early after failing to help 94% of young unemployed people it originally targeted.

The scheme, launched in 2012, provided wage incentives to companies as a way of encouraging them to employ young people and was scheduled to continue until September this year.

However, the Financial Times has reported that the deadline for employer applications is to be brought forward a month to August.

 At the launch of the scheme, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that enough money would be made available to support businesses in employing 160,000 under 25′s on a six-month “job start”.

Despite the pledge from the Liberal Democrat leader, figures show that only around 10,000 young people had been helped into work through the scheme by November 2013. The figure represents just 6.25% of the 160,000 originally targeted by the Youth Contract scheme.

The Government argue that the low take-up was due to falling youth unemployment, which fell by 141,000 during the last year, according to official statistics.

A government spokesperson said:

We now have record employment in this country, with the largest fall in youth unemployment since the 1980s.

“The Youth Contract has contributed to that by providing over 200,000 opportunities for young people, helping them to get the experience and training they need.

“As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, we’ll be re-investing the wage incentive money in other projects targeted at those young people who face the biggest challenges to getting into work, so everyone can share in the growing economy and improving jobs market.”

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves MP, said that with over 800,000 young people still looking for work, the Youth Contract had been as “abject failure”.

Just two years after the launch of David Cameron’s flagship Youth Contract, the £1 billion programme is being abandoned by ministers”, Ms Reeves said.

The Youth Contract has been an abject failure from start to finish. Ministers promised it would get every unemployed young person working or learning, but only a tiny fraction of Youth Contract employer wage incentives were ever used to get young people into work, and over 800,000 young people are still unemployed.

“The Government should introduce Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get young jobseekers off benefits and into work.”

Source – Welfare News Service, 25 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/labour-brands-youth-contract-abject-failure-flagship-unemployment-scheme-ends-early/

Labour To Hand Lucrative ‘Workfare’ Contracts To Smaller Companies

A future Labour Government would consider handing lucrative Work Programme contracts, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, to smaller businesses and charities in a bid to cut back on the number of large providers involved in controversial back-to-work schemes.

>  Small providers will then proceed to grow into big providers (re-employing all the crap staff from the ousted providers along the way) and we’re back to square one.

And whoever provides it, workfare is still forced labour.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP said that she plans to “challenge the status quo” of Government commissioned Work Programme contracts by opening up the scheme to smaller providers.

 Back-to-work services could be devolved and decentralised away from Whitehall, by allowing local governments and social enterprises to develop and outsource schemes better tailored to the meet the needs and requirements of locally unemployed people.

Ms Reeves told the Financial Times that new providers may be required to pay their employee’s a living wage if they wish to bid for contracts. She said that existing providers should be worried by her plans but acknowledged that they come with potential “cost implications” for a future Labour Government.

Some of Britain’s largest charities recently announced that they were to boycott a similar scheme to the Work Programme. Hundreds of charities and 13 councils signed a pledge to boycott Community Work Placements, which form part of a new Help To Work Programme, where the long-term unemployed are required to meet with a Jobcentre adviser every day, attend training or commit to six-months “voluntary work” in their local area. Failure to comply could result in benefit claimants having their payments docked or stopped completely for a pre-determined length of time, otherwise known as a ‘benefit sanction’.

Opponents of back-to-work schemes, like the Work Programme and Community Work Placements, say they amount to a form of forced labour because of an ever-existing threat of sanction for non-compliance, as well as gifting employers with free labour enabling them to escape hiring paid workers and keep wage costs down.

Unemployed people taking part in these schemes claim their benefits have sometimes been cut for ridiculous and over-zealous reason, such as failing to turn up to a placement because of being in hospital or delays to local bus services, as well as other reasons.

Labour will have to go much further if they are to satisfy opponents of these schemes, who say they would accept no less than complete abolition of all “slave labour” programmes, and the end of private company involvement in social security benefits and the welfare state.

> They’ll have to go a damn sight further than they ever seem likely to, now that the extent of their ambitions seem limited to being the Tory-lite party.

 Source –  Welfare News Service, 24 June 2014
http://welfarenewsservice.com/labour-hand-workfare-contracts-smaller-companies/

Suprise ! North East missing out on jobs despite economic recovery

The North East is missing out on jobs despite the economic recovery, union bosses said today.

The Trades Union Congress said the region was one of four where the likelihood of being in work has fallen since 2010 despite the recent upturn in business.

Union officials say jobseekers in the region have not benefited from better trading conditions in other parts of the country.

The other areas affected are the North West, the West Midlands, and the South East while all other regions have shown a better jobs market.

Figures released this morning by the TUC and based on information from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey said the North East had an employment rate of 67.3% last year. The figure compares to 67.9% in 2010 – a drop of 0.6%.

The reduction compares to increases in most areas including Yorkshire at 2.4% and London at 1.6%.

Neil Foster, Northern TUC Policy and Campaigns Officer, said the figures showed inconsistency across the regions.

He said: “This study shows that under the previous Labour government the North East was catching up with the rest of the country before the global financial crash hit hard in 2008.

> From personal experience, there’s some truth in that – I got more work between 2000 and 2008 than in all the preceeding decade – all short-term work admittedly (longest 7 months, shortest 3 months) but there was at least an anticipation of things improving. Then it all went pear-shaped again…

“However under the Coalition we have gone into reverse and we’re now seeing the bulk of new jobs created in the south so it’s even harder to find work in the North East.

> As noted in another post recently, a survey of all online jobs reported in Financial Times last Summer showed that London and the South East  accounted for 46 per cent of UK vacancies, compared with just 3.3 per cent in the North East.

Of that 3.3%, many are part-time, temporary, zero-hour contracts or commission-based non-jobs – not much good for us unreasonable people who want, or at least need,  full-time, permanent work

“The Northern TUC warned Coalition ministers in 2010 that this could happen if they dismantled Regional Development Agencies with the significant powers, budget and support they possessed.

“Going forward, we need a devolved industrial strategy that gives our region the tools to build a real recovery that can draw on our significant strengths and benefit people in need of work here.”

TUC General secretary Frances O’Grady said the figures were part of a survey looking at employment in the regions over 20 years.

She said: “Despite the return of growth the chance of having a job has actually fallen in much of England since 2010.

“Whilst it’s great that jobs are created in London and the South East, stronger job creation is needed throughout the country.”

> Government policy :  fund those areas likely to return Tory candidates in the next election. The rest  can rot.

It’s not even a new policy – the Thatcher government actually considered cutting city’s like Liverpool adrift to sink or…well, sink probably.

The figures were released ahead of new jobless statistics this week.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 20 Jan 2014

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 3)

Ok… round 2. I’ve now discarded the submissive attitude adopted for the initial interview and now its time to enter angry, cynical bastard mode (admittedly this seems to be pretty much my default state nowadays).

The adviser was allowed to play his hand in the first interview, and he proved himself to be one of those who would, if given the opportunity, steamroller the claiment into signing a Jobseeker’s Agreement  (JSAg) designed to set them up for sanctions, presumably with no qualms about the ensuing hardship their actions would cause.

Remember this, and remember it well – it’s YOUR life they will be disrupting, possibly destroying. They will continue on their merry way, drawing their rather good wage and probably basking in the praise they get for hitting their sanction targets at your expense.

So what are YOU going to do about it ? Because its  only YOU who can do anything about it.

Luckily its not so hard as you might think – or might be encouraged to think. Of course it helps if you’re a naturally stroppy person. Actually, I’m not, and once upon a time I’d have probably have allowed them to steamroller me too,  but the passage of the long, hard  years, etc – basically I’ve learnt how to play the part, studied how they play their parts, learnt the facts that they should know but so often seem ignorant of – pretty inexcusable when that knowledge should be central to the proper execution of their jobs, but there you go. It’s something you can use.

Knowledge is power, and can give you a little leverage – it’s up to YOU how you use it to best effect.

Archimedes said “Give me a firm place to stand, and I will move the Earth.”  That’s a little ambitious perhaps –  I’d settle for helping a few more cracks appear in the edifice – it may not be as dramatic as burning down the Jobcentre, but chipping away here and there has its effect.

Not much of one if it’s just me, but what if YOU join in, and YOU and YOU ?  And all the other YOUs who accept having deadly JSAgs foisted on them without argument, then whinge about it afterwards ?

If everyone refused to sign sub-standard JSAgs at the initial appointment and took the adviser to a second session, that would instantly impose extra strain on the system – and probably on the advisers too. More cracks for you to insert your metaphorical crowbar into.

But its down to YOU to act in your own best interests. All I can do is record how I’ve gone about things – hopefully it may inspire YOU and give YOU a few ideas.

Anyhow, enough about YOU,  how was I getting on back at the Jobcentre ?

Mr Submissive safely back in his box, Mr Bastard takes to the stage. As the adviser’s only previous experience of me is as the former, this apparant change of personality may throw him a bit.

Incidentally, I find it useful to take a few props along. Print out anything you think you might be able to quote at them, put them in a file, then add enough extra sheets (blank if you like) to give it a bit of weight so that it gives a satisfying thump when you dump it on their desk. If they query it, say  “Just a few notes…I’ve been looking into the legal implications”  or something on those lines. Leave it  vague – let their imaginations fill in the blanks, however erroneously.

A reporter’s notepad is also useful. Put it on  their desk to make sure they see it, but transfer it to your lap, out of their sight, to make notes. Actually, you dont even have to make notes – just appear to be doing so. doodle, scribble, whatever, it’s the fact that you appear to be making notes that is important. Once again, encourage their imagination to jump to conclusions. Oh, and dont forget a pen – you kind of lose points if you have to ask to borrow one of theirs.

The notepad can also be used to disrupt their flow, should you wish to. Just say “Sorry… could you repeat that ? I ought to make a note of that,”  and then scribble something on your pad for a while.

Mr Bastard also attempts to take control.  Mr Bastard is right in from the word go. He points out that the JSAg is a contract and that under English common law there are certain niceties that must be observed if it is to be  considered valid, does Mr Adviser not agree ? Mr Adviser has obviously never given a moments thought to the subject, is caught on the back foot, and resorts to umming and ahhing.

“Well it is, and it does,” Mr Bastard informs him, and moves on to the next issue.

You might recall from Part 2 that this adviser changed one of my specified employment fields on the JSAg to “assembly”, despite me pointing out that not only did I  have no experience in that field, I wasn’t even clear what “assembly” actually entails.

Mr Bastard  points out again that he knows nothing of this field,  and demands it is changed…but not back to the original job, instead he is willing to allow “Retail” to be inserted instead.

In actual fact, Mr. Bastard’s experience of retail is pretty much limited to working stalls at  markets and festivals – still, that’s 100%  more experience   than he has of  assembly. Mr. Bastard also knows that far too many retail jobs are part-time and zero hours, but he wont have to apply for those, as he specifies needing full-time work.

However, the important thing is that Mr. Bastard  is seen as willing to compromise and allow the Mr. Adviser to change one of his designated jobs (albeit one that he did not himself designate to start with). Mr. Bastard makes sure Mr  Adviser knows that he’s  making compromises, that he’s willing to do business. All bullshit really, but this perceived willingness to negotiate will look good should you need to take your case to independent appeal.

Still pushing the illusion of being Mr Compromise, Mr Bastard also states that he’s going to allow the total of  6 compulsory job applications per week to stand – a 100% increase on the existing JSAg. Mr. Adviser upped it from 3 to 6 at the initial appointment.

Six applications a week may not seem much, but taken in the context of the North East’s job opportunities… some weeks it’ll probably mean applying for 5 jobs I know I’m not going to get. The one bright spot is that email means I dont have to waste money on stamps and stationary anymore.

Mr Adviser did attempt to rally behind his assembly fixation – what the hell is is with him and assembly work ? If its so great, why isn’t he doing it ?  And, being Mr Bastard, I asked him that very question. He didn’t answer, but stated that assembly was where all the work is  locally.

Aha !  said Mr Bastard, who had spent a profitable and instructive 15 minutes prior to the interview printing off jobs from the Jobcentre’s jobpoints.

“Funny you should say that,” says Mr Bastard, “I’ve just been working my way through the top 100 local jobs, and guess how many assembly jobs I  found ?” 

Mr Adviser is not up to guessing games, but Mr Bastard tells him anyway – “Two !”  He dumps the job slips in front of Mr Adviser and goes on to point out that both require previous experience and arcane qualifications, neither of which Mr Bastard – as he has repeatedly pointed out – possesses.

Mr Adviser shrugs. But there’s more – Mr Bastard dips into his other pocket and extracts a far larger wad of job slips.  “By way of comparison, in the top 100 jobs on your job points I found no less than nineteen vacancies for self-employed leaflet distributors.”

And that’s the way of it folks – 2% assembly jobs, 19% leaflet distributors. In fact its probably worse than that – had I counted several other door-to-door, catalogue selling, commision based non-jobs in with the leaflet non-jobs, they’d have accounted for at least 25% of  work available on the Jobcentre’s (and thus the government’s) own job points.

Its the unpalatable fact that they wont acknowledge – last August the Financial Times highlighted a survey of vacancies by  Adzuna.co.uk,  described as   “a search engine that collects every online job vacancy.”

According to this survey, London and the southeast accounted for 46 per cent of UK vacancies… compared with just 3.3 per cent in the North East.

Anyone having to live on benefits in the North East knows this. Anyone looking for full-time work knows it’s even worse than that – once you’ve weeded out the part-time jobs, the zero hour contracts, and the 25% of “self-employed” scam non-jobs – what’s left ?

Very little.

We know it , they must know it too, but refuse to acknowledge it, and insist we continue to chase vacancies in which we have neither the specified experience or qualifications, which we know before we even send the application  that we wont be considered for.

If you wanted to design a system that seems  guaranteed to destroy self-confidence and morale, look no further.

Mr Bastard makes these points, but Mr Adviser is obviously not interested. After all, he has his job, his little bit of power over the plebs, and is fulfilling the the trust invested in him by Iain Duncan Smith admirably.

The session petered out around now, with Mr Adviser saying that he will have to book a double-session for next time, as Mr Bastard has to agree to the revised JSAg or it will be refered to a decision maker.

WE have to mutually agree on a contract, subject to English common law” Mr Bastard reminds him, and exits, feeling he’s  probably come out on top – and still hasn’t signed the JSAg.

To be continued …