Double dip and Oatcakes

The news that Britain has slipped back into a recession should not be surprising. The economy experienced a 0.2 % fall following the decline in the figure of 0.3% in previous quarter which now puts the economy technically into a double dip recession- the first time since 1975. I would argue that the local economy has probably never recovered from the recession 4 years ago. As a guess the North Staffs economy has shrunken by about 8-10% since 2008. The signs of a turn down are everywhere most noticeably in the local jobs market. If we take the Sentinel as a guide the Wednesday section has been advertising around 300 jobs over recent weeks.

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Days of Hope or a Haze of Dope’s? Labour Politicians as Collaborators

It is not surprising that people have little regard for politicians- a feeling magnified by the news that Alan Milburn is helping the Government in looking at the question of social mobility. Milburn joins other former Labour Cabinet Ministers such as John Hutton who have taken advisor positions within the new coalition Government. In truth Blair was equally willing to embrace Tories into the New Labour camp. Shortly after the 97 General election David Mellor was invited to take part in a commission on football. This lead to a yelp of outrage, I recall, from a Cheddleton Councillor Malcolm Ward who disapproved. The dog might have barked but in this example the caravan rumbled on.

It is the sense in my mind that politics and politician are inter changeable and that do not have a belief system or a sense of ideology. A good example is shown by Lord Freud who ceased being an adviser on Welfare Reform under Labour and became advisor on Welfare Reform for the Tories last summer. However, my detestation of this type of action is probably heightened by a loathing I have for some of the characters involved and how far they have moved politically.

I have no time for Hutton since I came across him in the early 90s and even then his main desire seemed to be anything that furthered his own career. I recall the blog of the Welsh Labour MP Paul Flynn

“I have criticised John Hutton as a shallow politician who has never been accused of having an original thought. He has trained himself to be a Blair clone. He dressed like Blair and abided by the Ten Commandments of Blairism. He even started to imitate the way that Tony Blair speaks, starting every other sentence with ‘Look!’ In all his many jobs he has parroted the usually bad ideas that lobbyists have crammed into his head”

Milburn has also come a long way from a Trotskyist past and running a left wing book shop in the North East ” Days of Hope” in the late 70s renamed by locals as Haze of Dope. He joined the Labour Party in 1983 and underwent a rapid trajectory into Parliament and eventually became the Health Secretary. In Government he was regarded as an arch Blairite.

While in 2007 as Secretary of State for Health Milburn stated

“We plan to remove the Secretary of State’s powers of direction over NHS Foundation Trusts. Instead of being line managed by the Department of Health, they will be held to account through agreements and cash for performance contracts… The expectation must be that the greater freedoms that NHS Foundation Trusts will enjoy will help them exceeding national performance targets but that will be a matter for local not national negotiation. Those that perform well will benefit from the system of payment by results and patient choice that we announced in Delivering the NHS Plan.”

Milburn is currently on the advisory board of Bridgeport Capital. He appears to have joined them in January 2007. Bridgepoint is a venture capital firm heavily involved in financing private health care firms moving into the NHS.

Milburn, Hutton, Hewitt, Hoon, Flint, Smith, Blears and Byers! They all seemed appalling and in the case of Hewitt, Hoon and Byers foolishly caught out in a lobbyist scam pulled by a TV programme in the weeks before the election.

Caroline Flint seems to be a particular example of a half-wit who has been raised beyond the level of her competence. There was her complaint that she was not being treated seriously when she flaunted herself for a national newspaper. Then her ineptitude at carrying briefing notes open to view and showing that “we know that the government are predicting “sizeable falls in (house) prices later this year – at best down 5-10% year-on year”, remember that the next time a Labour minister claims prices are just steadying and bear this in mind when the government try to increase the shared ownership scheme – would you want shared ownership of a depreciating asset?

I would say that the quality of cabinet minister in the Labour Government was on the whole very poor and does stand comparison with the Harold Wilson cabinets of the 1960s and 70s.

The first Wilson Cabinet of 1964 contained more first class Oxbridge degrees than any other cabinet prior to that date. Wilson himself, Crossman, Healey, Jenkins, Crosland. Other members of the Cabinet who had solid experience in the Trade Union Movement such as Frank Cousin’s Jim Callaghan and the mercurial Deputy Leader of the Labour Party George Brown. Later of course Castle, Judith Hart, Michael Foot, Peter Shore, Tony Benn, Shirley Williams and Roy Hattersley.

Now Milburn, Hutton and Frank Field have been asked to join in the big tent of coalition government. I wondered say in 1984 what Dennis Healey might have responded if invited by the Thatcher Government in the admittedly highly unlikely event of chairing a Commission on Social Inequality? I suggest the response would have pithy and salty

Co-operation and Cluster- a new approach to Regenerating Stoke on Trent

I came across this article while doing an Internet trawl for information on employment and regeneration ideas. It struck as being rather like arguments I have been advancing for some time now and that is the need to break down the Stoke on Trent economy into smaller areas. I suggested it in the context of green energy creation and conservation. This approach seems an interesting one. It almost suggests de federalisation (if there is such a word. I think getting different parts of the conurbation to work in clusters especially around the notion of “”co-operation”

A North Staffs Cluster might include Ceramics, Manufacturing, The Creative and New Technologies Sector, the Green economy and transport and communication.

I am pushing this idea because of recent events seem to me to suggest independence from the people in suits who come fleetingly to this area pocket great amounts of cash and then move on to other parts of the country, but the area does not change.

It’s an interesting read in my opinion

I am particularly interested in the development of specialisms from older industries

“The depth of the crisis meant there was agreement amongst local groups regarding the problems they faced and the need for a unified response. Since the region had a tradition of involving universities and other experts in industry it seemed logical to turn to economists and others from the university system to help develop strategies for recovery.

Based on their advice, the Styrian Provincial Government set up the Styrian Business Promotion Agency (Steierische Wirtschaftsförderung, or SFG) in 1991. This independent, semi-public regional development agency was tasked with promoting economic development and regeneration. As well as offering financial support to business, providing consultancy services and facilitating links between businesses and decision-makers, the SFG also introduced the concept of “clusters”.

Under the cluster system, local businesses work together for their common good, developing networks, transferring technology and information, forming special interest groups and initiating co-operative projects. Each cluster is set up, as a limited company 100% owned by SFG. This percentage is gradually reduced and private sector ownership increased as the cluster prospers. Membership is open to a wide range of organisations, and their joining fees help finance the cluster.

The Automotive Cluster (known as AC Styria) was the first example of this approach. Its members included the SFG itself, private sector companies and other organisations such as local universities. Since then six other clusters have been created covering Timber, Human Technology, Materials, Eco-cluster, Tech for Taste (focussing on food technology) and the Creative Industries.

Since the mid 1990s Styria has undergone a remarkable recovery, with the restructuring of traditional sectors and the development of a new, higher technology industrial base. The cluster approach is widely credited as driving this change by local businesses and politicians.

Styria is still a major steel producer, but instead of making low grade, general purpose steel it now makes specialist steels that meet the needs of the automotive and other industries. The wood and paper industries have also been modernised, and the region has become a leader in the production of papermaking machinery.

The automotive cluster, which helped kick start the change, has built on its old skills (specifically the production of four-wheel-drive vehicles), and now manufactures vehicles for prestige companies like Mercedes, BMW, Chrysler and Aston Martin. As a result employment is up, from 495,000 in 1995 to 539,800 in 2005, while the whole area is now rated as Europe’s 41st most innovative region.

Explaining the situation helps inspire action. In Styria, spelling out the sheer scale of the problem, combined with the region’s small size and strong identity, made it relatively easy to get agreement for drastic action amongst local interest groups.

Trust is the basis for all collective action. Styria’s remarkable transformation depended on a joint effort by a wide range of players. This in turn depended on one key factor – trust. Because the interested parties knew they working for their common good, the usual infighting and suspicions didn’t arise.

Make sure everyone involved understand that policy and spending decisions are in their interest. This becomes far easier if the action programme is realistic and builds on existing capabilities. It also needs to be based on a properly researched, coherent strategy that doesn’t threaten or serve the interests of any one organisation.

Choose effective local leaders with a stake in the result. Such individuals must combine technical experience, the ability to leverage private and public sector expertise, a strong commitment to the successful transformation of “Ëœtheir patch’ and the ability to combine informal networks with more formal structures.
Where a large company goes, smaller companies follow. The involvement of larger companies brought status and resources to the clusters and encouraged smaller businesses to get on board.

Since the mid 1990s Styria has undergone a remarkable recovery, with the restructuring of traditional sectors and the development of a new, higher technology industrial base. The cluster approach is widely credited as driving this change by local businesses and politicians.

Styria is still a major steel producer, but instead of making low grade, general purpose steel it now makes specialist steels that meet the needs of the automotive and other industries. The wood and paper industries have also been modernised, and the region has become a leader in the production of papermaking machinery.

The automotive cluster, which helped kick start the change, has built on its old skills (specifically the production of four-wheel-drive vehicles), and now manufactures vehicles for prestige companies like Mercedes, BMW, Chrysler and Aston Martin. As a result employment is up, from 495,000 in 1995 to 539,800 in 2005, while the whole area is now rated as Europe’s 41st most innovative region.