If only baking economic policy was just about motherhood and apple pie, eh, Labour?

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Trading the orchard for an apple

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s current Shadow Chancellor has set out in a Guardian article, her “five tests to ensure the government is delivering the national economy the British people deserve” post Covid.

Post Covid, but not Brexit.

Brexit does not get a mention in Reeves’ article.

It is a little appreciated fact, seemingly, that businesses of all shapes and sizes have over the last few years spent money they could ill afford on preparing for two No Deal Brexits that never happened and on coping with the pandemic.

As the pandemic eases, the costs of the Hard Brexit to which Johnson signed up and Labour freely endorsed are still rising.

The labour and skill shortages opening up across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom’s economy are directly linked to the end of Freedom of Movement.

Labour seems to be studiously ignoring them, but then to acknowledge them would involve mentioning the B word.

Rest assured Rachel Reeves has five tests against which to assess Johnson’s Covid recovery actions.

Reeves’ tests mostly eschew measures Labour would enact to meet them.

Reeves plans to mark Johnson’s homework and show him where he has gone wrong, but not to provide him (or us) with Labour’s model answers.

There are focus groups and there are focus groups

The quotations in bold and italics that follow are from focus groups run by Claire Ainsley, currently Keir Starmer’s current senior adviser and policy chief.

I think at this moment that I need to make clear that I have no issue in using properly constituted focus groups to provide input into the development of policy and to help find ways to effectively promote settled policy.

I draw the line, however, at using focus groups of the generality of voters to draw up policy. I would have thought that the Brexit referendum had cured anyone of the value of such action.

I do think consulting key stakeholders in a particular policy area is of great value otherwise political parties run the risk of only engaging with the like-minded and hearing what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

Test One

“… our British industries should thrive. This means an expansion of manufacturing output, jobs and exports, including in high-growth sectors of the future such as green technology and digital services. Labour would do this with our plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain, building the skills and jobs of the future that will help us succeed on the global stage.”

Elderly (Leave voting) folk in focus groups punch the air. After all, the only proper jobs are in manufacturing, are they not?

A woman in Worksop described the kind of economy she would like to see: “They need more companies to be brought in that aren’t just distribution centres so we need incentives, like I talked about an engineering plant, to bring big businesses in that are willing to have their headquarters here, for example.” “

Let me put that prejudice in context for you.

There are, according to the Office for National Statistics, 34,564,000 jobs in the economy as of March 2021.

Of that 34,564,000, some 2,543,000 are in manufacturing on the shop floor, in the offices etc.

That 2,543,000 amounts to 7.4% of all the jobs in the UK.

I imagine those carrying out the other 92.6% of jobs do not, in the vast majority of cases feel they are not proper occupations.

Were Labour to create 1,000,000 new, net jobs in manufacturing without increasing the overall number of jobs in the economy then the total number of jobs in manufacturing would amount to 3,543,000 or 10.25% of all the jobs in the UK.

Creating more jobs in manufacturing, whatever the value of doing so and its appeal to retired Red Wall voters, would not make a blind bit of difference to the vast majority in work in the UK.

The majority of the suite of employment policies outlined by Angela Rayner this week would make a significant difference to many in employment whether or not they work in manufacturing.

Rayner on Labour leadership manoeuvres, again?

Unfortunately, the promotion of those policies was rather undermined by Rayner focusing on proposals to make zero hours contracts illegal, a very minor matter, and the enactment of an automatic right to work from home that would not be practicable for the majority in work, because of the nature of their employment.

Both policies, however, do have great appeal to members of Labour’s leadership electoral college, many of whom are not dissimilar from the profile of the typical Guardian reader.

By the way, Guardian readers, mostly in white collar jobs or retired from them do seem, a goodly number of them, to get a bit of a frisson from the promotion of occupations they think the working class should want to do, but which they do not want for themselves and their own.

Corbyn rather displays this tendency.

A middle class Left version of noblesse oblige and take on what is best for the other ranks.

I will discuss “buy, make and sell more in Britain” in a separate post.

Test Two

“… people should have secure jobs and real choices around work. That means a stable income, growth in occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for, and improved pay and conditions.”

What is not to like about all that?

However, do I detect another focus group prejudice in “occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for”?

“They expressed discontent with the workings of the economy, with jobs that don’t pay enough to achieve a decent standard of living and a national economy they see as far too focused on London. And they bemoaned a lack of opportunities for themselves and their children: apprenticeships that paid too little and led nowhere, and a lack of access to training and good quality vocational education as an alternative to university.”

A National Vocational Qualification Level Four may be deemed the equivalent of a degree. I recall that under the last Labour Government it was decided after Sure Start had been up and running for a while that all Children’s Centre managers, who did not possess a degree appropriate to that job would be assisted to achieve a suitable NVQ4.

Personally, I thought, like one of my friends and colleagues, that far from being unnecessary such a step was a declaration of intent, a mark of how serious the Government took the role of manager.

I have a problem with squaring “growth in occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for” with “building the skills … of the future”.

May be someone will sit Rachel Reeves down and talk her through post 18 provision in education and training?

I remember Yvette Cooper during her 2015 Labour leadership campaign talking of the need to stop treating post 18 vocational education as being of a lesser quality and value than the traditional route to a degree.

That prejudice is partly born of our class system that is never more evident than in education.

“… the promise of investment in adult education is a platitude – who could possibly want adults to be less skilled, less fulfilled, than they could be? – that masks a huge shift in priorities. Further education, known in the political class as what happens to other people’s children, has been underfunded for nearly a decade.”

At last, courageous thinking from Labour on education – Zoe Williams

Corbyn during the 2019 General Election said, “The best is world-leading Further Education, which is so important to working class students.”

“The National Education Service will allow you to pursue your dreams” – Corbyn’s speech

One final thought, is Starmer gearing up to say that there will be fewer places in traditional higher education than there are now under Labour, but not to worry, because his Labour Government will create occupations that will pay well, but for which you do not need a degree?

Will someone explain to these people that a disproportionate number of middle and upper class youth go into higher education in 2021 and that it is, first and foremost, employers not politicians, SpAds, civil servants or focus group members that set the qualifications required to undertake a job?

Test Three

“… everyone should feel the benefits of higher pay and a lower cost of living. We need a reduction in the number of households, children and pensioners in poverty, falling levels of problem debt, and higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits.”

” “It shouldn’t be a minimum wage; it should be a living wage,” was a popular refrain to make sure people could make ends meet.” “

Sounds good (and I am with the popular refrain), but I would be interested to know what is meant by “falling levels of problem debt” and “higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits.”

Aggregated UK household debt has a tendency to top UK Government debt. Folk who fret about the Government maxing out a credit card it does not have are very relaxed about maxing out their own.

As for “higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits”, I would file that under aspirational at a time of rising inflation and a contracting economy.

Just avoided mentioning the B word there!

Test Four

“… no one and nowhere should miss out as the recovery takes shape. No matter where they live or what their background, everyone should be able to benefit from greater opportunities. And yet, despite Boris Johnson’s promises, the economic performance of the highest and lowest regions is forecast to widen over the course of this parliament. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Of course, you know the major socio-economic problem that dare not speak its name is very much bound up with issues around levelling up and the like. Covid really has not got much to do with it in comparison with the B word.

What was palpable was the anger and frustration at politics, and politicians, over the last three years to address the issues that mattered to them most: a failure to deliver the jobs, investment and opportunities needed so their families and local economies can thrive. These domestic issues are being crowded out by Brexit. People told us the way Brexit is being handled has only increased their feelings of being “let down, ignored and patronised” by a distant political establishment.”

You should not have to leave your home to get a good job is pure Nandyism. Lisa Nandy frets over how young people leave Wigan, her constituency, to study for a degree and never return home. And that, folks, is a bad thing.

Lisa Nandy is originally from Manchester, by the way.

Of course, most young people in Wigan do not go into higher education.

Back in the mid 2000s, Advantage West Midlands, the Regional Development Agency for the West Midlands, got very exercised about graduate retention in the region.

Folk were graduating from higher education institutions in the West Midlands and moving away from the region.

AWM pondered setting a graduate retention target.

Someone, I think it was a colleague of mine, asked if there was any evidence that employers in the West Midlands were finding it especially hard to recruit graduates.

I do not think we heard anything about a target after that question was posed.

I have formed the distinct impression that the reason why Labour has not really gone to town on Johnson’s farcical levelling up strategy is because it has nothing credible to put in its place that would meet with the approval of its Leave voting focus groups.

We do have nearly 100 years in the theory and practice of socio-economic regeneration in the UK context on which to draw when considering future policy, but quite often it runs up against populist ideas of what is necessary to level up, whatever that means this week.

“Despite their anger and frustration, people were brimming with ideas that would improve their lives and towns. From business incentives for those who train people locally, to open learning centres for training, to jobs that offer a chance to get on, and getting a ‘fair share’ of investment from government and business, people gave a clear way forward for our political leaders to address their concerns.”

Voters, sadly, have a tendency to possess an inflated view of what Governments may achieve in a mixed economy.

Governments do not create jobs directly, except as an employer, they may create and maintain the conditions in which jobs are created in the private and voluntary and community sectors.

Test Five

“… the economic recovery must be sustainable. We need real, tangible progress towards our net zero goals, while building stronger, more resilient communities with greater wellbeing and falling rates of loneliness and social isolation.”

Very much motherhood and apple pie.

Cheesed Off

“We have a chance to use this time to boost growth, and to learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us about our economy, our industries and our vital public services, environment and quality of life. A Labour government will do things differently”, but without any reference to the lessons the B word is teaching us.

The B word has caused advisers, funded by the UK Government to recommend to UK based firms concerned about losing sales in the Single Market that they should move some of business their operations into the EU.

The Cheshire Cheese Company, “which had been optimistic about Brexit, is now looking at setting up a hub in France where it would “test the water”.

But it has also scrapped plans to build a new £1m warehouse in Macclesfield employing 20-30 people.

“Instead we might end up employing French workers and paying tax to the EU,” Mr Spurrell said.

“I left the EU as a UK citizen but now they are suggesting I rejoin my company to the EU, so what was Brexit for?” “

Would a future Labour Government seek to prevent a company moving contract work; jobs; business operations or even its head office to a location within the Single Market?

Past UK Governments had to accept that being outside of Europe came with serious costs.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Aztec Oils, a specialist lubricant oil company based in Leave voting Bolsover, Derbyshire, the former stomping ground of Left Exit supporting Dennis Skinner MP, is adapting to life as a business in a third country outside of the EU.

“As a result of Brexit, Aztec Oils has set up companies and employed staff overseas: 7 to 8 in Holland and two in Lithuania so far as it adapts to the new normal (many companies have been advised to set up operations overseas by the British government, such is the nature of Brexit).”

Aztec Oils “have also set up a company in Northern Ireland, Aztec Lubricants NI Ltd.”

It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.

The losses caused by Brexit are “not just exported jobs and lost growth but reduced corporate and individual taxes going to government. Skills. Knowledge. The jobs and turnover in company suppliers and service providers. The innovations. The lunches and the after work beers putting money into small businesses locally.”

Both Starmer (and Johnson) do prattle on about creating good, high skilled jobs you would not have to leave home to get.

We are off to Sunny Spain! ¡Viva España!

British telecommunications giant Vodafone is to create 600 new jobs in Malaga, Spain with its new European Research and Development hub.

“The British telecommunications giant had organised an international competition between January and March to decide in which European city it would establish its new R&D centre.

Seven cities from five European countries participated in the contest, and they had to respond to an extensive questionnaire that focused on lifestyle, the availability of talent with the necessary technical skills, working conditions, transport systems, public aid and grants, university connections and the attractiveness of each location to job-seekers.”

The UK outside of the Single Market was not a contender. Why restrict your company to fishing for staff in the pool of labour of one country when you may trawl one made up of 31 countries?

Tory and Labour Economic Policy is incredible

Labour will never have credible economic policies whilst it continues to act like Brexit is not damaging our economy and society greatly and will be doing so for some time to come.

That Brexit, in fact, limits what any UK Government wants to do, bringing into question any ambitious plans set out by either Starmer or Johnson.

How long though before Johnson and Starmer have to address the cold hard fact that their Hard Brexit is causing bins to go unemptied, fruit and veg unpicked, and supermarket shelves unstacked?

7 thoughts on “If only baking economic policy was just about motherhood and apple pie, eh, Labour?

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