Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Contribution to Society’

Labour’s ‘jobs guarantee’ for the unemployed: Politicians should guarantee their own jobs by giving industry the policies and systems that work for business so that business itself can start working for us all.

January 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Tackling unemployment should be an issue for any Government. But Labour’s attempt at generating meaningful headlines with meaningless content will do little to reassure either business or the unemployed about what the post 2015 future may hold. It will also do little to enhance Labour’s kudos on matters of care for the elderly if they are planning even more ‘Brownite’ onslaughts upon the pension funds of those who are already working.

Subsidising low-paid jobs does little to incentivise those who have not already taken them, but does a great deal for companies who need and profit from a low-skilled workforce; staff who require minimum induction or ongoing training alongside next-to-no supervision; all packaged neatly within a low-risk environment.

People should not be fooled either by the idea that cash-strapped charities would immediately benefit from having unskilled staff delivering services which may currently be undertaken by experienced volunteers, when such staff themselves would in all likelihood require supervision at much greater cost.

Perhaps I will not be alone in seeing the irony that the only businesses which can therefore profitably gain from the implementation of these ideas are primarily the big retailers, who are already targeting such groups for their shop-floor staff pools and don’t actually need Government money to help them do so.

The retail fat-cats must surely be laughing themselves all the way to the bank as they thank the gods of democracy in anticipation of the delivery of such idiocy made manifest in political form.

Getting people of all ages into work isn’t just about job creation. It is about empowering business, education and developing skills based upon the strengths of the individual, rather than devaluing the future of a whole generation on the basis of the weaknesses of groups.

If Westminster politicians were to adopt a more reasoned and practical approach, they might conclude that tackling employment issues tomorrow might be better served by tackling the causes of unemployment today. They might also conclude that the unemployed and disenfranchised young people of today, may well become the long-term unemployed and unemployable of tomorrow. Can it really be that difficult to see how many of these issues actually roll into one when you think ahead?

As Education Secretary, Michael Gove has impressed many with his fervour to return a world-class British system of education for school-age children. But will that really go far enough if it actually happens?

Children are always different and will always react differently to education. Some work best with their heads, whilst some will always work better practically and ‘with their hands’. Any system of schooling which therefore doesn’t recognise that difference and more importantly cater for it, is going to fail many of those who might otherwise go on to succeed – especially when that difference may just have been a simple issue of age and time at individual level.

Returning to a fully parallel and universal system of academic and vocational education from the age of 14 would be akin to pushing the first domino in a whole run of social issues concerning us now and for the future – however ‘un-PC’ they may be.

Removing red tape and legislation that currently prevent businesses of all sizes from employing teenagers at realistic wages during realistic hours and within the real-world employment environment, could give non-academically inclined children the real hope of attaining like-for-like qualifications through the timed-served, rather than the academic route.

Creation of the ‘apprenticeship-degree’ would bolster the competitiveness of British Industry and business of all sizes which themselves would then be able to draw upon an affordable pool of trainees, making investment in their future entirely more feasible; whilst taking Young People off the streets, giving them value in themselves, money in their pockets and taking them away from crime which the Country can already ill-afford to tackle.

Savings to Government from no longer filling what are arguably wasted places in schools could be significant, even if some funds were then redirected to tertiary and higher education colleges which support the vocational route for many of what would be the mile-stoned route to that real and vocationally-based degree. And let’s face it, degrees need to regain the value that the one-size-fits-all mentality of the last Government did much to destroy, whilst giving all those who actually want to work the opportunity to do so.

Getting the unemployed who want to work into work will always be a job done better by employers. Politicians should guarantee their own jobs by giving industry the policies and systems that work for business so that business itself can start working for us all.

Rail fare hikes and tough talk on welfare waste: Today’s problems will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

January 2, 2013 1 comment

With a 4.2% average rise in ticket prices hitting rail commuters today, just how long do politicians think that rises in the cost of essential services, utilities and products will remain ‘sustainable’?

Stories such as this one and also the attack on welfare payouts by Iain Duncan Smith in just the past two days alone demonstrate just how little emphasis there really is in dealing with the root causes of problems, which may be unpalatable to those in power, but are nonetheless very real indeed.

As a businessman with both conservative and capitalist principles, I have enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to be both enterprising and entrepreneurial throughout my career. However, I also learned very early on that there are basic laws at work within business, one of which is that costs will generally be fixed, but profit will always be variable.

Where this goes wrong in the economy is in situations where those in control of businesses are able to fix minimum profit margins and then seek the cost of investment and renewal through price hikes which usually only affect people and other businesses who themselves have no ability to raise their own incomes or margins to cover those very same costs.

Those reading this who have experience of the commercial sector in its broadest sense will know that the circumstances which generally allow this darker side of capitalism to thrive, only exist within monopolies or within industries which provide services or products which people must have; many of which were once in public hands.

The history which has given privately owned businesses the ability to dictate the ‘breadline’ or to become able to ‘profit in misery’ is a long one. Profligate spending by idealistic politicians who believe in the principle of something for nothing, simply created a situation which left others with a more realistic understanding of the way that an economy really works with little choice in the way they had to respond.

The age of privatisation was soon born and responsibility for its evolution cannot be levelled at the door of any one Conservative, Labour or Coalition Government, as all have played their part since the 1960’s.

What can equally be said is that no one person who can ask for the votes of many thousands of people, can reasonably expect to retain any sense of respect as an MP if they have accepted that responsibility and then failed both to recognise and then to act upon the damage and pain that such levels of power are causing in the wrong hands.

Yes we need travel fares that make a job worth travelling for. Yes we need reform of welfare, benefits and taxation so that there is an incentive for all to work and stay in this Country. Yes we need managed investment in just about every area of life and infrastructure that we could conceivably imagine.

But we also need Government which is responsible, confident in taking risks and ready to deliver reforms which may well include legislative restructuring of businesses offering essential services in order to limit what they actually make.

The failure of Government to ensure and safeguard basic costs for independent living is a root cause of many of today’s problems and will not simply be solved by continually taking more from pockets when there is even less to replace it.

Labour Council Leaders say Government cuts will lead to public unrest. But the days of passing the buck for a free Pound have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Some Conservative Councillors will quietly sympathise with the difficult decisions being made within almost every local authority in the Country as the result of continuing budget cuts. But that’s precisely where any similarity in view will end with the content tabled in a joint letter to the Observer by the Labour Leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield Councils, suggesting that cuts in local government grants will break up society.

Look at our Country today and it is easy to see that we are already living within a divided society that is split by divisions which go way beyond simple demographics, political bias or the slashing of public services at just one level of Government.

These are problems that are far more serious than any senior politician on any side seems willing to address in any meaningful way. And the reality is that the demise of local authority structures and the seemingly endless range of services that they were once able to provide are only being accelerated by the ‘age of austerity’, and not caused by it as this document would apparently have us believe.

There is in fact significant irony that local authorities are also the victim of the philosophy and actions of the very movements and people who are so eloquently attempting to place blame on the Coalition Government today, for problems which have actually been a long time in the making within a system which has only been sustainable because of what must have seemed like a guaranteed bottom line to a generation of politicians who believe that idealism can be delivered without any thought for practicalities.

In just one respect alone, I found myself completely horrified when I first learned of the gargantuan percentages of Council Tax which go directly into the gold-plated Local Government Pension Scheme. Similar ideology has been rampant within local government decision making throughout living memory and any commercial business run with such an extraordinary emphasis on funding employees and their benefits would be as viable as its existence within in a competitive market.

I have little doubt that just these funds alone being made available for the purpose which the Taxpayer has the right to expect, coupled with the real reforms that every part of Government now requires, would deliver a significantly positive effect on what is today a very gloomy picture indeed for locally-funded public services.

Government and non-Government organisations of all types have for too long been insulated against the real world realities of profit and loss by protectionist culture; by the political correctness of socialist job creation; and by a guaranteed level of income which has now unceremoniously come to an end.

It’s time that everyone in positions of responsibility within all tiers of Government began being responsible, rather than looking elsewhere and expecting someone else to pick up the pieces or to pay the bills with a non-existent stream of infinite credit.

Political idealism is as ideal as it is practical. Politicians from all sides now have to accept and work with this reality. Otherwise, a new reality will continue to write itself which will go way beyond the fallout from wasting opportunities for change and from a failure to take full responsibility within local government.

The days of passing the buck and expecting a free Pound in return have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences.

Is the distance created by modern communication and business methods removing basic humanity from our relationships and has the time come for a whole new set of rules?

August 1, 2012 1 comment

So what motivates you at work or within your business? Is it doing the very best job that you can; or is it simply to earn the greatest amount as quickly as possible and perhaps keep yourself in that lucrative job that you already have, maybe progressing you to an even better paying or profiled position?

Whilst admitting that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth just as soon as the realisation dawns that other people may have noticed; for a growing number today it will be the latter and for very practical reasons that they may never really have even considered at that. Perhaps strange then that it’s a feeling of guilt which often accompanies that understanding when it arrives, as few will ever argue that we would all like to earn more or have a better lifestyle if given the option to do so.

The reality is of course that people feel bad about making money when questioned, if they hadn’t realised that it has become the purest motivation or aim in what they do, rather than being the very healthy side-effect of a career undertaking or vocation, and then doing it damn well.

With a growing concern about the ethics employed within business, not least of all illustrated by the Libor scandal, one must ask if a loss of conscience is one of the very negative aspects that the distance created by increasingly elaborate supply chains and the rise of the Internet have created?

Many of us have simply adapted and in many cases thrived from the changes and opportunities brought into being by the rise of the Communication Age.  So workers within Internet and information technology reliant businesses are perhaps excusably less aware of the fallout hitting customers they may never even see from decision making which is without a tangible fear or concern for the ‘human factor’. One also wonders if they are therefore insulated from the future catastrophes they now have the power to create in what may seem little more than parallel lives, which to the more aware would only ever be dressed as distant elephants that look less than the size of a gnat on their horizon.

To perhaps emphasise the downside of distance more effectively, I will take a step back to an industry that we all love to hate. A profession that has always had the benefit of distance between business and customer once they have been commissioned; but a distance which is also created by time and process rather than by the remote contact of a broadband cable.

Within the property market, many are quick to become cynical of the inflation-setting-overpricing of houses and wonder how they find themselves unable to afford even a modest home.

Some would blame the gargantuan super-tanker that was ‘right-to-buy’ as set in motion by Margaret Thatcher, but can quickly forget how it was that very act in the first place which encouraged massive property ownership within parts of society where people would never have dared even dream of being homeowners before her tenure, and perhaps led to those very same people being able to aspire to making such dreams their reality to begin with.

Others would look perhaps more accurately to the realms of Estate Agents who have ruthlessly pushed prices up and up, month-after-month and year-after-year in order to secure greater and greater percentage based sales fees.

Estate Agents actually do a job that they could choose to do very well on sensible margins – even in a good market. But repeat custom is to them a very long game and if someone else is saying they can sell a house for more, it doesn’t take much excuse to follow or to lose out because the risks to them seem very distant indeed.

After all, very few owners will willingly lose many thousands of pounds on a sale just because one agent tells them what its actually worth, when another says different. The agent who ‘does what it says on the can’ will have ‘priced to sell’ and done what they were commissioned to do, whereas the second agent plays the long game, watching the market rise to the price they suggested, thereby getting the fee they want but paying little note of the pain that their customer experiences in the meantime. No wonder then, that so many Estate Agency businesses have stopped trading or been forced to make substantial cutbacks during the economic crisis.

The long-term effects of such business practices are potentially incalculable and one can only speculate on just how overpriced our homes now actually are, and how far back in time standards of living and subsequent social mobility could actually be pushed as a result of the out-pricing of starter homes for young people; a situation created purely on the basis of making higher and higher margins for just a few without any apparent risk to the many from doing so.

So with the rise of the Internet and information technology, many more businesses now find themselves enjoying a distance between themselves and  customers which is to such a degree that the abuse of such apparently lucrative opportunities could create all manner of future problems, which may only ever become apparent much further down the line.

For instance, a once heavily hands-on recruitment industry which only a few years ago interacted with perhaps every candidate who made the effort to post them a CV, has been replaced by one which has discovered a seemingly bombproof level of security from risk of losing fees by targeting ‘perfect fit’ or tick box candidates, simply by focusing on electronic advertising and administration techniques. 800 applications through an Internet Job Board sounds a lot to handle; but not if you have set up a machine to identify perhaps a minimum of 8 ‘keywords’ or phrases from 10 in those CV’s before the hand of a human with any kind of feeling will go anywhere near them.

Nobody talks about the longer-term threat to hiring businesses of all shapes and sizes that comes from recruiting candidates from what by default effectively becomes a closed field of applicants who only know and understand a specific discipline within business, illustrated by the use of a series of words. Words which may themselves actually just be buzzwords or the esoteric ensemble of a recent graduate.

And why in purest profitability terms should recruiters care when today’s bottom line is secure and they achieved it with the benefit of never having to even speak to perhaps 3 times as many candidates as they actually did. Candidates who may have provided the recruiter’s customer with benefits and untold added value which they never had the chance to see but paid for nonetheless.  A situation leaving perhaps the best candidates finding themselves removed from the running by a software package that reduced the time involved for the recruiter to all but a mere fraction of what they would have ‘wasted’ otherwise.

It is quite concerning that labour and cost saving technology for one business can itself create the opposite effect not just for one, but potentially many others. But then if you also look at the dark-art-creativity of the financial sector and money-making ideas such as cereal futures and funds that own shares in supermarkets and dairy processors, you can quickly begin to see just how the mechanics of distance and its ability to negatively affect the lives of many people actually are. After all, what is 1p on the price of a pint of milk every couple of days when you had a £1 Million bonus last year?

On the one hand, technical advances and the heralding of an information-based communication age encouraging openness and sharing is driving a potentially buyer-led age where businesses have no option but to sell on the basis of making ‘just enough’ profit and delivering quality on time every time.

On the other, the opening of doors to many more  ‘golden-egg’ opportunities which are great for those picking up the product as it is found, but like the ever expanding and deepening ripples from a tiny stone tossed into a still pond, can cause mayhem and disaster in places that they had never even considered.

So the question needs to be asked; Is the distance created by modern communication and business methods removing basic humanity from our relationships and has the time come for a whole new set of rules?

Pensioners, Social Care and the Questions of inevitability, independence & incentives lost

Getting older is one of the few things left that we cannot actually control in our technical age. But how much thought do you give your ability to retain that independence which many of us today simply take for granted?

Just last week, whilst walking through the rain in the local Sainsburys Car Park, I found myself being beckoned by an old lady who literally called ‘will you come to my aid?’. A non-starting car, a phone-call to discover that her roadside assistance was 10 years out of date and then another to drag a Friday-afternoon-weary mechanic out across Town, all paled into insignificance when she excusingly announced that she was 92.

This terrific pensioner regrettably had nobody whom I could call on her behalf to prevent her just sitting there whilst the time passed to the completion of her rescue. But to be fair, I wouldn’t want to make a song and dance if I found myself in a similarly unwelcome situation and would be lying if I were to say anything other than how much I admired her stoic independence and indifference to such items as the seemingly unused mobile phone, still wrapped and jiffy-bagged in the door-well of her car.

Sadly, not many 92 year olds will be driving themselves to the supermarket before returning home alone today, and this is perhaps where many more of us should be casting our thoughts in terms of what support is put in place for older generations, how it is funded and perhaps most importantly how much of that bill we should seriously expect pensioners with varying levels of need to pay themselves.

The issue of Social Care is jumping in and out of the spotlight at the moment. But are MP’s really thinking about the wider issues involved in this nebulous policy area; about how pensioners really feel about having decisions made for them about everything they have worked for? After all, many who have worked hard and been regular taxpayers throughout their lives are potentially being left without the option to leave something for their families, or perhaps even to leave a legacy to a charity which somewhat ironically the Government might itself need to look to for help as part of its push towards ‘Big Society’.

Many are at a loss as to understand what the term ‘National Insurance’ actually means in all this. If any one person can contribute to the NI ‘pot’ on the understanding that they will be supported when they are in times of need, but find that when that need arrives, a judgement is then made on whether they can help themselves first to outwardly save the public purse, can we truly believe that we have a universally-applicable, balanced and fair welfare system?

Evidence would suggest that not only is the welfare system inherently unfair to those who through their actions choose to regularly pay tax, but that it is those who have always paid who will actually continue to keep on doing so. In a modern, civilised and free society it is little more than idealism that creates a situation where some can have all for the price of giving nothing, whilst others can end up with nothing for the price of being forced to give just about all that they have.

The elephant in this room is a difficult one to deal with and most of us appreciate that fact. But we are living in a society where success and simple hard work are now being penalised in every part of life right up until death, and where making little or no effort is now seen to be the ‘right thing’.

No considerate person would suggest that anybody in genuine need should not be given adequate and appropriate help when they need it. But have we really seen the dawn of times when those that work will pay for everything and everyone else throughout their lives and get virtually nothing back in return?

%d bloggers like this: