The UK labour market is an abstract concept and not a single, unitary labour market. Discuss …


The United Kingdom’s labour market as a single, unitary labour market is an abstract concept, but, if you accept that it is not then it is possible to write an article like this one by Torsten Bell, an ex Treasury civil servant and, currently, the Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation.

The problem is that employers and jobseekers do not exist in that abstract concept. The UK labour market is composed of myriad, overlapping labour markets defined by occupation, industry sector, geography …

It is a messy world out there beyond the walls of Her Majesty’s Treasury and sundry think tanks. And there is, dear reader, precious little order in the chaos, seen from where most of us see the world of business and work, up close and personal.

Let me try and illustrate what I mean.

Let us take two people in Plymouth, both in secure employment, well qualified and experienced, but looking to move on to another job in the same line of work.

The one is a part time carer and the other a type flight surgeon with no commitments.

The geographical labour market for the carer is Plymouth and its immediate environs whilst that for the surgeon may extend as far as anywhere in the world where their skills will be welcome.

Now, imagine all the people in work in the UK and looking for work lumped together. That is what folk are talking about when they speak of the UK labour market.

I am reminded of chaps in the City who used to appear on the BBC News after a torrid day on the Stock Exchange, talking about the activity being a necessary correction.

The stock market on a daily basis is made up of numerous trades of stocks and shares, almost all pre-owned by the way.

Who was making this correction and why was it necessary?

Order must be asserted to exist in chaos or else one’s remuneration might go down. Whatever you do, do not let the punters know that X shares may have shot through the roof on Friday afternoon, because Jocasta got a good feeling about the company after an excellent lunch and in anticipation of a ripping good weekend.

They might start wondering, if they would be better off toddling off to Le Touquet and putting it all on black 10.

The UK labour market as an aggregation of all the labour markets within the UK is a nonsense for practical purposes.

As a consequence of taking that view, one may challenge Bell’s assertion that firms are finding it impossible to hire staff.

And recruiting the right person for a job takes a lot longer than taking someone’s order; making them a meal and washing up afterwards.

It is perfectly possible for employers to be hiring staff whilst others are finding it virtually impossible to fill their vacancies. The two statements are not mutually exclusive.

Most employers, by and large, are not good at recruitment, because it is a task they rarely undertake. The larger the employer, however, the more likely they are to have access to professional help in house or at least the resources to buy it in from a reputable company.

Let us look at the issue from another angle.

89.6% of all companies in the UK employ nine staff or fewer.

If you normally employ nine and you have a vacancy that is proving hard to fill then you are short 11% of your work force. Should that situation persist you may lose revenue and possibly run the risk of going out of business.

Harold Wilson once said that to the unemployed person, unemployment is 100%.

There is a chance that the vacancy may disappear, but not because it has been filled. An employer may take stock of the situation and decide that Fred who retired from the full time job was coasting just before retirement.

May be he does not need replacing, if you divide the job up amongst the existing work force or, perhaps, you only need some one part time, may be even only now and then.

This is a very thorough piece of work establishing the labour availability issues of the UK Food and Drink Sector and it very much emphasises the point of this post.

One of the problems with discussing the UK’s labour market and its sub markets is a paucity of data.

Back in the day, when Jobcentres had a role in bringing jobseekers, employed, unemployed and the economically inactive, together with employers the Office of National Statistics had access to information about around 40% of the jobs being advertised at any one time alongside that obtainable from employment agencies and other similar sources.

The last Jobcentre data that ONS accepted on jobs notified to Jobcentres was back in November 2012.

The job data supplied by employment agencies has to be considered in the light of the fact that they are profit making companies. The same goes for the press releases that get agency representatives beaming out of your TV during a breakfast time show.

They have a vested interest in presenting their business, if not their industry in a good light.

One was aware (and I am sure they do not do it today) of agencies advertising honeypot vacancies to draw in job applicants to add to their registers. The size and quality of which they then cite to employers as to why they should place their business with them.

I had more than one conversation with a jobseeker saying that the too good to be true job had always just gone when they rang up, but the agency would be happy to add them to their books.

To confuse matters more, employers may advertise a permanent job with more than one agency. It has not been unknown for agencies to advertise a client’s vacancy through the employer’s local Jobcentre, but not in the employer’s name and for them to advertise the job in the media in the employer’s name, but with the contact details of the agency.

One vacancy might be advertised in three distinct locations.

All very confusing.

Jobcentre staff used to hate being used by the agencies. They got paid for our work and rarely did employers tumble to the fact that they were paying the agency to act as an intermediary.

And, if we worked out for which employer an agency was acting we were under strict instructions to not let the employer know what was happening.

Before 1997, we were even told not to point out that our service was freeish to employers when canvassing for vacancies. We were in competition with the employment agencies for business.

New Labour, boo, hiss, said we might say to employers that it was free at the point of delivery. You are paying for it through your taxes.

One euphemism for redundancies that has been in vogue for a while is downsizing. One assumes that an industry that needs to shrink is one that needs to lose workers and, perhaps, even businesses?

Of course, the people being made unemployed may not be in the right place, geographically, and, if they are possess the right mix of skills and experience for employers seeking new employees in Bell’s expanding industries.

The article is behind a pay wall and I have thus only seen the screen grabs, but none of them contain the B word.

The end of Freedom of Movement has seen a reduction in migrant labour from the European Union that is making it harder for some employers in some sectors of the economy to fill vacancies (and retain staff).

Fewer migrants in the UK means fewer customers for UK based businesses. Is anyone seriously trying to work out what that will mean for the UK economy in the coming months?

Fewer migrants in the UK means fewer business owners in the UK and potential owners of businesses, put up for sale by UK citizens.

And fewer migrant truck drivers either living and working here or living elsewhere and passing through poses a serious risk to economic recovery.

It is interesting that some of the experts are dubious about the importance of cabotage to UK haulage either out of ignorance or, may be, the fear of facing up to the reality of cold hard facts?

Perhaps the most amusing aspect of Torsten Bell’s article is its title, “Covid could still make a mockery of the best-laid economic plans“.

Boris Johnson and planning are mutually exclusive.


“Just a bit of fun, just a bit of fun …,” as Peter Snow used to say on Election Night Specials on the BBC, but seriously the UK’s HGV driver shortage …


“Whether we like it or not, our future prosperity is dependent on our ability to attract foreign-born workers to substitute for the native-born workers who were never born.”

Robert Wright, Professor of Economics at Strathclyde University

Demographic ‘time bomb a huge threat to the economy

We are short of at least 90,000 HGV drivers in the United Kingdom.

Logistics UK says it can take nine months for new drivers to qualify.

80% of those who took the Ministry of Defence’s LGV course in recent times, who passed it and then gained driving work, left the industry in the short term.

Using the MoD course as a guide, we would need to get 450,000 people to take HGV lessons, complete them satisfactorily, pass the appropriate examination and enter driving employment to get 90,000 drivers in the medium to long term.

Back in the day, in Jobcentres we used to say you needed to refer four people to a course to get two to turn up. Only one of the two would be suitable to start the course.

Assuming none of those starting our hypothetical course failed, we’d need to refer 1,800,000 for 900,000 to turn up and for 450,000 to get through the sift to start learning how to drive an HGV.

And all of that 450,000 would have to both complete the course and enter employment as HGV drivers.

The average HGV course costs £2,000.00 so the total cost of 450,000 courses might amount to £900,000,000.00.

And of course, one would need a small army of driving instructors to deliver that number of courses and another sizeable force of examiners to pass out those completing them.

I gather some instructors have quit their jobs to go back on the road, placing more work on to those instructors who have not and raising, probably unfairly, a question mark over their suitability as instructors.

And all that, before we consider the impact of the United Kingdom’s demographic time bomb on the industry.

Road hauliers have cited drivers retiring from the industry as being as big a problem for staff retention as the UK leaving the European Union.

In my Jobcentre days, one quite often had chaps saying that driving work was a doddle.

“Go on, gissa place on an HGV driving course. I can do that, I drove to and from work. I take my missus to the shops in the car. I mean what do you need to be a truck driver?”

“Well …”

Responses to this post from Twitter:

“Lift on Lift off… unaccompanied trailer loaded on ferry one end and picked up the other. as opposed to same driver accompanied RoRo (Roll on Roll off) both ends.”

“Driving a lorry is not about “employment”; the most successful lorry drivers own their own lorries. Ownership is a huge commitment based on years of experience, and establishing networks of customers and trading patterns. Only a fool would enter the market blind.”

“but surely (wink) all delivery points are just off motorway junctions & have huge yards where you’ve just got to go back straight whilst the yardman guides you?”

“Newbies are taught to pass a test , blind siding an artic into a crappy little gate trying not to take out all the badly parked cars , isn’t on the curriculum”

“Nah bruv, as a hgv driver of 30 years I can comfortably say your wrong. Once a new start passes their test the learning begins. If they last 2 years then they’re becoming competent. 30 years in & everydays different, everyday is a school day.”

“On top of exceptional driving skills, you need to be a skilled machine operator, you need to be able to plan ahead, to keep a cool head in sharp crisis situations, to have excellent reactions, to have a good head for figures and a lonely independence must be borne. Rare skills.”

“And how many Army drivers could reverse a 40ft artic through a customer car park into a loading dock without a banksman and not hit anything? Not knocking the Army, it’s just not what they do.”

“I couldn’t agree more! Especially the part that as an army driver you’re not trained to go reverse in the loading bays. I’ve had off road courses,tanker courses with 2/3 load(most tricky one) but learned reverse driving on my civil job,having the benefit of experience already.”

The government are planning to introduce longer lorries next year to solve the driver shortage issues Via @Telegraph:

“Yeah hi, is that ISO? Yeah, we’d like to change the worldwide industrial standard for containerised shipping units. Why? Well we want bigger lorries. Why? Well because we haven’t got enough. Why? Well because nobody will drive them. Why? Well because of Brexit. Hello? Hello??”

“Don’t worry Michael Shapps is going to build longer lorries”

“good for loads of feathers…and not so good for getting into loading/unloading yards…esp down Bradford back streets”

“I’m self employed and it’s a pita. Taxes, NI, bookkeeping. It’s a second job that not everyone can do. Just employ and pay people if you want their labour.”

“This is my “you fucking not serious drop” , luckily it wasn’t Southend Pier, Gravesend”

What goes into an average shift driving a lorry?

Tom the lorryist explains herein.

Matters Arising:

A particular Tweet …

“Makes a huge difference. Ditto land bridge to Ireland. I am actually shipping stuff manufactured in Britain to Ireland via our distribution centre in Netherlands. Customers happily pay double shipping rates. You guys are short of both drivers AND trucks. The cabotage.”

The shortage of drivers based in the UK has been exacerbated by the end of cabotage by EU based drivers delivering a load into the UK then making a number of deliveries within the UK before going back home. And UK based drivers no longer enjoy cabotage privileges in the EU.

For example, a Polish driver delivered a load from Warsaw to Birmingham, picked up a load here and took it to Norwich and then took a load from there to Dagenham before leaving the UK. We have been reliant on those sort of movements which is another cause of our current problems.

You may reasonably ask why the Polish driver is not taking back a single load to mainland Europe. Well, we import more goods from there than we export.

And if you are not hauling, you are invariably not earning so the prospect of cabotage within the UK made bringing a load into the UK, financially worthwhile.

Our Polish driver needs to know he has a load to take straight back or else it may not be viable for him to bring a load into the UK at all.

As we all know, drivers need insurance.

It is routinely difficult to get competitively priced insurance for newly fledged HGV drivers. If you go straight from only having driven a car to driving for a living you are deemed to be high risk, because you have no record of driving even a delivery van.

And, imagine an insurer considering the risks associated with a business which normally takes on a few drivers at any one time when it says it is looking at a larger number, some of whom have never driven routinely for work.

I gather there a lot of HGV licence holders out there in the UK not using them. An HGV licence expires after five years then you have to renew it. Having been trained to drive an HGV does not mean you are job ready.

Grant Shapps has told prospective employers they may get an ex offender off the Road to Logistics scheme.

Classic Shapps, potentially compromising the initiative and that particular group’s chances of securing employment in an industry wherein high levels of honesty are required and insurance premiums are high.

According to Grant Shapps, employers will be falling over themselves to employ ex offenders; ex regulars (the answer to every recruitment problem requiring tough men?) and the long term unemployed who have recently qualified to drive a basic HGV.

It is not like we have not tried that one at least once before with varying results.


On HGV driver shortages, both sides are missing the point about cabotage

Lorry shortage may soon spread to bus industry as drivers quit to take on HGVs

Gritter driver shortage could lead to icy roads this winter

Twitter threads

Brexit has removed cabotage, which made UK haulage more efficient

Brexiteers have been lying, again, about Covid impacting negatively on HGV training

To become a “professional HGV driver” you first need

The case for a stronger United Nations to protect and keep the peace, Hilary Benn

Ernest Bevin, Labour Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 1945 to 1951

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, in a speech at Coventry Rising 15, said:

“It is a great honour to have been invited to contribute to Rising 15 and to do so on 11 November here in Coventry.

This cathedral – the old and the new – stands as a reminder both of the consequences of war and of the enduring power of faith to inspire.

Two weeks ago I was in Jordan listening to a mother describe how she fled there from Syria with her children after her husband, a baker, was arrested, tortured and killed by President Assad’s forces.

There is not one of us who does not ask why human beings do this to their brothers and sisters? Maybe we shall never know, but there is another question that we can try and answer. What should we do when these things happen?

I was brought up on the parables of the New Testament, and the one that left the greatest mark on me was the Good Samaritan.

St Luke’s gospel records that it was the question “And who is my neighbour?” that prompted Jesus to tell the story of the man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho who was robbed and beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.

While the Priest and the Levite both, separately, chose to pass by on the other side, it was the Samaritan who stopped to help.

And having told the story, Jesus then asked his questioner:

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves ?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

I have chosen this parable as my text for today.

When we see the extreme suffering of others, what is our responsibility to our neighbours?

For some, this is an uncomfortable moral choice and they hope it will pass them by.  Some say it is none of our business. Others respond by renouncing violence – an aspiration we should all share – but until all 7 billion of us do so, we have to face up to the effects of violence on its victims.

War is often the handmaiden of poverty and civil wars on average result in 20 years of lost development.

It is no accident that Afghanistan and Somalia have the highest rates of infant mortality in the world.

Both are poor and both have been wracked by conflict.

The causes of war are many. The legacy of colonialism. Resources. Ethnic and regional tensions. Politics. Nationalism. Ideology. Religion. Terrorism.

And in the years to come, we may see added to this list people increasingly fighting over energy, land or water.

So when is it right to act to prevent these things?

Looking back on the Second World War which led to the bombing of this cathedral, did more people die than would have lost their lives if Hitler had not been confronted? Maybe. Was the war an expression of failure? Most certainly. And yet, was the second world war justified?  In my view, it was.

And from its ashes came a determination that such a conflict should never happen again.

Its expression was the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and three years later, the UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 3 states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Article 28 says: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.”

And yet, for millions of people these rights – so nobly expressed – have remained just words on paper.  The refugees from Syria I met in Jordan could not have been clearer. They said simply: “The world has forgotten us”.

Why is this so? Because those affected lack the means to do anything about these conflicts themselves and because we, the rest of the world, lack the will or act imperfectly or not at all.

This will not do.

First, and most importantly, because we should uphold the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They mean something as the ultimate expression of our responsibility to one another. And yet without the rule of law and peace in all countries they mean nothing.

Imagine if the world consisted only of the United Kingdom and someone argued that it would be alright to have peace in Coventry, but civil war in Leeds and genocide in Glasgow. What would we think ?

Of course, this doesn’t happen because these rights are enjoyed in all parts of our country. And yet, we are one world and having created the United Nations, we have a duty to ensure these same rights are available to our fellow humans whichever part of the  planet they were born on

The second reason why this matters is because  interdependence defines the condition of humankind today more clearly than at any other time in human history.

The effects of conflict elsewhere are felt here, whether it is watching it on television, seeing the flow of refugees, feeling the repercussions in our politics or experiencing the impact of terrorism on our own lives. And as the world’s economies become more dependent on each other, the consequences for trade and travel are increasingly serious.

The third reason is that no country can progress while it is mired in conflict.

So those who care most passionately about overcoming the scars of poverty, disease and squalor, must be equally passionate about the part that peace and stability play in helping to bring this about.

And the fourth reason is that new threats beckon.  Unchecked, climate change will affect our future security. If people can no longer live where they were born because their homes are under water or it has stopped raining, then they will do what human beings have done throughout history. They will move in search of a better life. They may be coming to live near you or me. And their number will dwarf anything we have seen thus far.

What recent history teaches us is that whether it was Sierra Leone under the RUF and the West Side Boys, the Rwandan genocide, Kosovo when Muslims were being murdered in Europe’s backyard or Syria today, the world needs to find a way of dealing with crimes against humanity.

In some of these cases we did act; in others we failed.

It is not that the international community does not care. But there is not yet a settled and united will to act, and we lack the capacity to do so in an effective way.

So how can we build this capacity?

One of the problems we face is national sovereignty. A country invading another is one thing, but when terrible events happen within a country some still say that this is an internal matter and none of anyone else’s business.

We used to hold the same view of domestic violence here in the UK. Forty or fifty years ago, if the police were called because of reports that a man was beating up someone in the street, he would be swiftly arrested. But if the victim was his wife or his partner behind a closed front door, then the prevailing attitude was ‘it’s a domestic dispute and not for us to get involved.’

That doesn’t happen anymore. A crime is a crime, and the sovereign state of the kitchen or the bedroom no longer provides any protection against enforcement of the law.

I think we are currently witnessing the world going through exactly the same process internationally for exactly the same reason. An increasing number of voices are saying that leaving people by the roadside of conflict to fend for themselves simply cannot be right.

And so was born the concept of Responsibility to Protect – the idea that the international community does have a responsibility to stop people becoming victims of the most terrible crimes.

Developed by the Canadian Government’s International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001, it led – following Ban Ki Moon’s report on implementing the Responsibility to Protect – to the UN General Assembly adopting a resolution in 2009.

Seeing state sovereignty not as a privilege but a responsibility, R2P seeks to prevent and stop genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. And it explicitly accepts that the international community does have a responsibility to act in certain circumstances.

I support R2P very strongly, but it is not without controversy, so I want to try and address directly the reservations and concerns people raise about it.

The first is authority. Who is to decide what should be done?

For me the answer is clear. It should be the Security Council of the United Nations. That is why we created it. The UN has both a unique responsibility because of its authority and a unique legitimacy.

And yet we see from history that the UN has not always been capable of agreeing on what should be done or of acting effectively when it has.

We have to accept that the veto exists to bind the world’s major powers – the five permanent members of the Security Council – into the United Nations, but with it comes a great responsibility. That is why the French Government has proposed that in cases of mass atrocities permanent members of the Security Council would voluntarily agree not to use their veto. I think this is an important proposal and it should be strongly supported by the UK and others.

But what if the UN will not or cannot act – then what?  Is that an argument for standing on one side?  Not in all cases some would argue, including me, as our support for intervention in Sierra Leone and Kosovo demonstrated. Others, however, take the view that in the absence of a UN mandate there can be no legitimacy for any action.

The second issue is that people fear premature military intervention. That’s why diplomatic and public pressure should always be the first resort. It can work.

Western sanctions have played an important part, for example, in persuading Russia to implement the Minsk Agreement in Ukraine.

We have also learned that a single camera or a single reporter bearing witness to an atrocity – and the shame that can be brought upon those responsible – can have a power equal to a thousand resolutions. The reason why the UK Government changed its mind in September about Britain taking more Syrian refugees was that photograph of little Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying on a beach in Turkey.

The third issue is deciding when states should act.

Agreeing a threshold is difficult and highly contentious and achieving consensus about whether or not diplomatic options have been exhausted is fraught with difficulty. And yet, if we wait for evidence of genocide to become conclusive then it may be too late to do anything or to save anybody.

The fourth issue is practicality. If a decision is taken to act, then who is going to undertake the work? If it involves military intervention, then whose troops will be used?  How many?  Under whose command?  With what resources and what mandate? And what is the plan for after military intervention?

One way of answering these questions is to continue to build capacity regionally to be able to handle  peacekeeping. Was it right for the African Union to take the lead in Darfur and Somalia? Absolutely.

Both because western forces in an Islamic country in those circumstances would not have been accepted and because these were conflicts in Africa’s backyard.

On mandate, peacekeepers need the tools to do the job, and that includes the ability to protect and intervene if necessary under Chapter VII.

Where there are people to protect or a peace to keep, we need more peacekeepers. At present there are close to 125,000 military and civilian UN peacekeepers compared with only 11,000 a quarter of a century ago.

Despite this, there still aren’t enough for all the missions the UN would wish to run, and to the high standards we expect of them. For as well as numbers, there is also the question of training, equipment, and capacity, particularly as regional institutions build their own peacekeeping.

This is an area in which Britain could and should play a much bigger part given the skill, experience and expertise of our armed forces. There are currently just under 300 British peacekeepers contributing to UN missions although another 300 are soon to deploy to South Sudan and Somalia. That simply is not good enough and I call on the Government to set out in the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review how the UK can play a much bigger part in UN peacekeeping in the years ahead.

And when action has been taken, it needs to be followed up with stabilisation, a political process and decent governance. There is no substitute for the parties to a conflict finding their own way out of it.

Lastly, what is the consequence? There are two types of consequence; that of acting and that of not acting.

In the case of Sierra Leone, the outcome of British and UN intervention was beneficial. The country remains poor but it is largely free of violence now and has taken the first steps on the road to recovery.

In the case of Afghanistan, where the world responded to 9/11, the removal of the Taliban enabled about three and a half million of the estimated four million refugees who had fled the country to return. The conflict however continues – many lives have been and are being lost – but the aim remains enabling the elected Afghan government to look after its own security as politics brings a peace settlement.

In Somalia, the American troops who went in to help with humanitarian relief ended up in a gun battle. They were replaced in time by African forces, but despite recent progress, parts of the country remain deeply troubled and insecure as the recent attack by al-Shabab in Mogadishu demonstrated. More positive has been the impact that international co-operation has had on piracy off the country’s coast. And, by contrast, Somaliland shows what can be done if politics is made to work.

For the people of Rwanda the consequence of our not acting was devastating. In 100 days just under one million people were killed – the equivalent of 6 million people being murdered here in the United Kingdom on our street corners, and in our schools and on churches – as the world stood by and watched.

Anyone who has read Romeo Dallaire’s book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil: the failure of humanity in Rwanda’ will weep with him in rage at what happened while we failed to help.

And while the Syrian civil war has continued, over 200,000 people have been lost their lives, half the population have had to flee their homes and the barrel bombing by the regime and brutality of ISIL/Daesh continue.

The world has to be much more effective in dealing with conflicts like this before they turn into brutal and bloody civil wars. The responsibility to protect was meant to be about that, but let us be honest: in Syria, no-one has taken responsibility and nobody has been protected.

Now we do also have to deal with charges of selectivity and, at times, hypocrisy; that we have not been consistent in our choice of when to act, or that countries have chosen to act when there is much at stake for them but not when there isn’t.

It is a reasonable criticism, and it has on occasions force.

And yet the argument that just because you have failed to do the right thing everywhere you should not attempt to do the right thing anywhere is one I find profoundly unconvincing.

Of course, in the case of all conflict, prevention is better than cure. There is nothing more important than putting time, effort and energy in trying to prevent violent conflict in the first place.

Particularly important is the UN’s capacity to mediate and so help the parties to resolve their differences without turning to violence. So we need skilled, readily deployable teams able to go and support peace talks around the world, as Staffan de Mistura and Bernardino Leon are currently trying to do in Syria and Libya.

Few civil wars arise from nowhere. So we need to be better at monitoring and understanding the causes of tension; the exclusion and injustice that makes people angry.

The establishment of the Atrocity Prevention Board by the US Government is a particularly good example of what can be done.

If all this sounds depressing, two decades ago things were much worse. Half of the countries in Africa were then affected by violence – many in regional conflicts across West and Central Africa.

Now, we can look back and say that sub-Saharan Africa was the only region in the world to see a decline in violent conflict at the start of the 21st century.

Much of that is down to the pioneering work of the African Union and its Peace and Security Council. It can deploy military forces in situations which include genocide and crimes against humanity and can also authorise peacekeeping missions. The AU has put troops on the ground in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Darfur, and most recently in Somalia in the form of AMISON – a regional mission operating under a UN mandate

We are getting better at negotiating peace. According to the Human Security Report, the international community has negotiated more settlements to conflict in the last 15 years than in the 185 years previously.

Finally, when all of this is done, we need to end up where we started – with the rule of law so we can call those responsible to account.

That is why the UK has been such a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court. The message it sends is clear and simple. Anyone who is planning crimes against humanity will think twice because they will know that the international community will in the end catch up with them, as Slobodan Milosevic and Radko Mladic both discovered.

The reason why we should want international action at the UN to succeed is that this is all about demonstrating that multilateralism – countries working together – can provide the answer to that uncomfortable question – what is to be done?

And the more it does succeed, the stronger is the argument we can make with those who would act unilaterally that there is another way.

I would like to end on a note of optimism. 100 years ago this year my grandfather William fought in Gallipoli in the First World War. He lost his younger brother in that campaign and his eldest son in World War Two. This is what he wrote about war:

“Is there anyone, now, who will deny that, step by step, warfare degrades a nation? …[Soldiers] know from bitter experiences what militarism really means; its stupidity, its brutality, its waste. They are chivalrous because they have learned the one good thing that war can teach, namely that peril shared knits hearts together – yes, even between enemies. They have mingled with strangers. They know that common folk the world over love peace and in the main desire good will.”

Nearly a hundred years after he wrote those words, they remain true.

Human beings everywhere yearn for peace and if together we can make our politics work in the service of humankind then we will bring nearer the day on which that hope is realised.

Thank you.”

Were Bridget Phillipson and Rachel Reeves deliberately massaging the figures of the United Kingdom Government’s support for exporters or are they just plain stupid?


The i carried an article on Tuesday 3rd August, entitled “Unfair funding advantage for small export firms sees South East receiving double North East (says the Labour Party)”

“Government failure to address inequalities in funding to support small export businesses has left some regions receiving more than double elsewhere, Labour has said.”

Firms in London and the South East, for example, have access to millions more in business support and advice than the North East equivalent.”

These are the latest Office for National Statistics figures for the number of Small and Medium Enterprises in England, broken down by region:

ONS Region

Number of SMEs  

East Midlands






North East


North West


South East


South West


West Midlands


Yorkshire and The Humber




The North East, 71,110 SMEs, is getting less support than, boo, hiss, London and the South East, combined, 945,855 SMEs.

Now let us look at the figures in a different way:

Contracted Support
in £m  

Monetary Value of Support in £
Divided by Number of SMEs in a Region

East Midlands









North East



North West



South East



South West



West Midlands



Yorkshire and The Humber




The North East is hard done by, in comparison with London and the South East?

Remember, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Bridget Phillipson and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves want the voters to trust them with the UK’s finances.

“A letter to Boris Johnson sent a fortnight ago by James Ramsbotham called on the prime minister to save the north-east from the “damage being done to our economy” by Brexit and urged him to give it his “most urgent and personal attention”. Two weeks later, it remains unanswered.

Ramsbotham is the chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce and speaks for thousands of businesses caught by the red tape and extra costs of complying with EU rules. In a recent survey, 38% of members said sales to Europe had fallen since January.”

Business chief calls on PM to save north-east from Brexit damage

There is, as ever, no mention of Brexit in this article, presumably based on a Labour Party press release.

One wonders how much of the money that the UK Government provides to advise businesses on exporting is increasingly going on helping them to navigate the United Kingdom’s third country relationship with the European Union.

Money being spent not on assisting UK companies to increase their export sales, but in desperate efforts to try and hold on to the sales figures they were achieving before 31st December 2020.

Efforts involving moving UK based jobs, contracts and operations into the Single Market.

Some companies are even setting up new subsidiaries within the EU and others are actually contemplating moving their whole business there.

Intriguingly, Reeves, flying in the face of reality, has pledged a future Labour Government to fund support for businesses seeking to set up factories in the UK in order to reshore or near-shore production “so that their supply chains are less complicated and shorter”.

Asking how much public money is going on suggesting UK based businesses buy, make and sell less in the UK would be a rational line of questioning to pursue, if the Labour Party were serious about exposing the fundamental flaws in Boris Johnson’s Hard Brexit deal.

However, Labour freely endorsed that agreement with the EU and plans to make it work.

How it will do so remains a mystery.

” “We want small firms grow and thrive all over the country and to be able to export the brilliant goods and services they sell across the world – crucial for our economic recovery,” Ms Phillipson said.

“But in recent years, the government have left British SMEs and exporters behind.”

“If the government wants to help all regions a higher level of prosperity, why is it reinforcing the existing gap through these disparities?”

“Labour has a plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain, to level the playing field for British businesses, and grow the skills and jobs we need here for our industries to thrive.” “

There are lies, damned lies and then there is the twaddle Labour keeps coming up with to justify an ever more risible policy.

Labour made a rod for its own back when it uncritically endorsed Johnson’s Hard Brexit.

There is more than a touch of back to the late 1960s with Reeves pledging the UK’s public sector to buy more in Britain.

I wonder if Reeves has considered the implications for the UK’s Balance of Trade of a policy that might well damage our non EU trade and further damage our EU trade than Johnson has managed, but would not significantly reduce our imports.

I am sure Reeves with her wide experience of trade, commerce and industry knows that UK plc imports goods and services to help produce goods and services for domestic consumption as well as for invisible and visible export.

I am sure Reeves learnt all about that at cocktail parties in Washington, not Tyne and Wear, but DC where she worked at the British Embassy as an economist; in meetings at the Bank of England and whilst working at the Head Office of the Halifax in Leeds.

Reeves is 42, she became a Member of Parliament in 2010.

You do the math as to how much she has lived and worked outside of the Westminster bubble since she read for her MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at New College, Oxford, followed by graduating with an MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Bridget Phillipson has not even got a background in business or economic theory.

Even so, you would have hoped that they would understand that economic policies fashioned, as much as anything else, to appeal to the prejudices of pensioners in focus groups, regardless of their position on Brexit, are no way to plan to manage a country’s finances.

And what electoral mileage did Labour anticipate in accruing from fiddling some figures on the regional support the UK Government provides to exporters?