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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Support for young unemployed is vacuous

The Observer reported that the support and advice for the young unemployed is not what was originally supposed. It seems that regular mentoring essentially comes down to a weekly text.

The £1bn scheme that has been promoted by Nick Clegg, as a concerted effort to solve the worklessness crisis for18- to 24-year-olds by offering them more time with advisers. But documents instructing job centres on their additional responsibilities reveal that the weekly contact promised under the scheme could merely consist of weekly text messages or emails.

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There’s an enterprising life after the dole queue

A Tunstall couple’s new business is booming – just two years after they were both left without jobs.

Andrew Fisher was unemployed for six months before enrolling on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council funded Test Trading scheme to help the city’s jobless start up their own business.

The 38-year-old, who runs motor electronic control unit supply business ECU-Express with his wife Sarah, is now looking to expand and take on extra staff as turnover increases by 30 per cent. Continue reading

A Sneyd Green Mum writes

The Sentinel carried a poignant letter recently from a Sneyd Green Mum whose 45 year old son had been out of work for 4 years and despite hundreds of job application remained unemployed. He had volunteered for 15 weeks within a Co-operative Store in the City. His mother felt that such a comparatively young man had been tossed onto a scrap heap

This heart felt cry puts into plain words the central difficulty that the unemployed face in trying to get into work in Stoke-on-Trent. The jobs are not out there. Last week the Sentinel advertised 378 jobs in an area where there are 11,000 unemployed. Continue reading

Recession map: Are we really all in this together?

The coalition Government talk about we are all in this together when it comes to dealing with the recession. How sure can we be that Stoke-on-Trent is having equal share of the pain? Plus how can we be sure that what little money Stoke receives to provide public services is used appropriately. Continue reading

The Grand Illusion- the search for no work in Jan 2012

I was on Radio Stoke a week ago today, talking about unemployment and tactics to get a job. I was positive and I was upbeat but I did feel a fraud. As a friend who is out of work told me the elephant in the room is the simple equation that there are 2.6 million out of work and 400,000 vacancies. That is the simple arithmetic that says that there are nationally 5 people chasing every job.

I know three people out of work. A relative has been out of work for 18 months and lives in South London. He does voluntary work for a drug treatment centre in Brixton. His view of the Job Centre is dismissive especially his case worker a very overweight hectoring woman who insists that he applies for jobs that he is not qualified to do such as being a touch typist. Incidentally the woman took 20 minutes to type a three-paragraph letter. The irony of having someone in charge of your destiny whom is essentially crap and would have difficulty herself in the job market if she were out of her job. She also was in the impression that Tameside in Greater Manchester was in London. The relationship is not a good one.

A friend has been out of work since November 2010. He has applied for 300 jobs. He was inducted on to the Work Programme and went along to a meeting at the Old Post Office in Tontine St in Hanley. There were a few people on the course including a bloke from Norton and a disabled woman who had not worked for over a decade. The attitude of the bloke from Norton left a great deal to be desired he went off and came back smelling of beer. He had obviously had a drink at Weatherspoons. The disabled woman had difficulty coping with a basic computer test- the Fischer Price test as my friend called the laughably unsubtle assessment. The company that was running the Work Programme was called Ace and was Wigan based. All the staff were from the North West which makes knowledge of the North Staffs labour market questionable at best. A view reinforced when none of them knew where my mate asked the best place for cheap bacon sandwich- I suggested Abdul’s on the Bus Station. They sat around tables when someone gave an ” Inspirational” talk. He was told to do volunteer work which he would have done anyway.

A third friend also unemployed in Wolverhampton, a teacher of over 20 years experience also believes the Job Centre does not have any jobs. They were suggesting voluntary work. He is doing a computer course of no merit.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Recruitment

Recruiting in Stoke-on-Trent isn’t as easy as you would have thought.

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, in 2011, Stoke-on-Trent City Council advertised 21 positions with Penna, the London based HR company behind the Leaders For Stoke website.

Many readers will be aware of the Leaders For Stoke website, the specialist recruitment website run by Penna, which is used to attract the best of the best to become Leaders For Stoke.

Out of the 21 positions, two, Chief Executive of CoRE & Director – Public Health were placed on behalf of partner organisations and no further information is held as to the number of applicants or interviews. Stoke-on-Trent City Council have no details of how many applications Penna received or how many people were interviewed for a further4 of their advertised roles.

The remaining 15 positions which the City Council did have information on included such specialist roles as an Accountant, Registration Officer and a JCB driver.

These advertised roles attracted a total of 270 applications, of which 82 were selected for interview and not one of the candidates who went through what we can only imagine is quite a tough pre-selection process were successful at the interview stage and offered the position they had applied for.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council roles advertised though Penna in 2011

  • Team Manager – Financial And Strategy Reporting*
  • Team Manager – Risk and Insurance
  • Accountant
  • Team Manager – Development Management
  • Director – Business Services*
  • BSF Senior Client Manager
  • Commercial Fleet Manager**
  • Finance and Commercial Manager*
  • Cemetery Operative/ JCB Driver
  • Registration Officer
  • Electrical Engineer*
  • Strategic Manager – Comnmercial Services*
  • Team Manager – Strategy and Development
  • BSF Senior Client Project Manager
  • Commercial Fleet Manager***

Although Stoke-on-Trent City Council used Pena to find candidates for all of these roles, the 8 shown in bold above were filled by candidates found from sources other than Penna.

4 roles * did not have any one appointed
1 role ** appears to have been filled but the successful applicant is no longer in that role

The Commercial Fleet Managers *** role had 9 applicants after being advertised in May, but according to the information supplied, it isn’t yet known how many of the 9 made it to the interview stage and the role is apparently still vacant.

The role of Chief Executive of CoRE was also filled by an applicant who did not come from Penna.

In these times of unprecedented cuts and £35m needing to be cut from the city budget the question has to be asked, are we getting value for money when we advertise council roles in this way?

Politicians and the Slump

I have had periods of unemployment in the early 80s, for nearly two years between 1995-7 and 2005-6. I applied for hundreds of jobs and went to many interviews, too many to recall.

It was a very demoralising time and probably says something about my strength of character that I kept going in applying for job after job. I did everything was asked of me.

I went on useless courses run by well meaning but rather unimaginative people funded on the cheap by the DWP. I recall the response about the question of what should I say about my weakness at an interview ” say chocolate”.

I would like to think that things have improved for the job seeker after 13 years of customer focused new Labour and the touchy feelingness of the Con Dems but sadly it does not seem to be the case. A friend of mine- a teacher of 24 years experience tells me that his Job Centre in Wolverhampton show cursory interest but the simple fact- and this is the elephant in the room is that there are no jobs. In the case of the West Midlands the ratio between the workless and the number of job vacancies is approaching 7 to 1 (I imagine that must be close to the ratio in Stoke).

Another friend of mine in Leek also tells me that his experience at the local Job Centre is equally dismal few jobs and clueless officials handing out meaningless advice. I experienced or at least over heard the sort of advice that the local Job Centre give. Last April a woman worker gave the same advice to a dozen claimants about warehouse jobs that existed in Meir. One of my family gives the same story about the lack of jobs or even an inkling of jobs in South London.

Today the latest unemployment figures indicate that there are over 1 million young people out of work and approaching 2.75 million people in total. This represents an appalling waste of talent. The response of the Government seems to be to reintroduce slavery where young people have been forced to take up unpaid work with a number of companies such as Poundland and Tesco using such labour. It must be right that people who work should be paid a wage anything else is despicable.

I imagine the figures coming out for North Staffs tomorrow will show a further decline in the number of employed. There are about 8,000 on the unemployment register in Stoke, about 1,500 in the Moorlands and about 2,000 in Newcastle. As far as Stoke is concerned the Sentinel indicated that 25% of the population are on out of work benefits. We are sliding into the deepest slump since the 1930s and without the politicians of the calibre of Roosevelt or economists such as Keynes.

Old Bill’s Almanack 2011

My “Baker’s dozen predictions for 2011.

I thought that I would stick my neck out and predict 13 events to occur in the area and looking a little further out national and international events for the New Year. As far as the last prediction as far as first contact with aliens during 2011 Paddy Power are offering 100-1. And if it does come to pass I will be having a pint of Vulcan beer in the “Final Frontier” pub next January 1st.

1. A comfortable majority will vote against the Sainsbury road proposals in Leek on a small turn out in the January referendum.

2. The Conservative led administration at SMDC will lose power in the May District Council elections.

3. The Foxlowe Community Arts venue plans will begin to come into fruition in 2011.

4. Unemployment will increase markedly in Leek during the year.

5. Fear of crime will increase following a major incident in Leek during the summer.

6. A financial scandal will shake confidence in the governance of the area in March.

7. Major civil unrest including riots in major cities in the UK will increase as unemployment rises towards 3 million by the autumn.

8. A leading Liberal Democrat member of the coalition will leave the Government and defect to the Labour Party in the autumn.

9. Pakistan will be subject to a military coup.

10. An environmental catastrophe will occur in China.

11. A major earthquake will hit California in June.

12. There will be a major terrorism event in a European City

13. Contact with an extra terrestrial civilisation will occur in September

The Last Post or if Stoke was a person would we be buying a one way ticket to a Swiss Clinic?

During the 70s when I was studying Politics and History at York I read a book which in hindsight made a tremendous impact on me- Brightest and Best an account of the Johnson administration and the Vietnam War. What is interesting about the book is the way in which very intelligent people can be fooled and can believe in what they want to believe especially when statistics are concerned.

Towards the end of the book there is an exchange between the Special adviser Walt Rostow a very distinguished historian and Daniel Ellsberg the author of the Pentagon Papers. Rostow is studying data about bombing figures on North Vietnam and is enthusiastically proclaiming that the Americans are winning the war. Ellsberg tries to inject an element of reality saying that this is not the case.

The same principle of deluding and believing that your efforts are succeeding fools people today. For instance and here is a question to direct at people who are in charge whether they are Councillors or senior officers of the City Council. Do you seriously think that you are winning the war now?

And the same principle equally applies to myself.

I have written since last November something like 130-140 blogs on the future of the area especially my home town Stoke on Trent. I have touched on many of the key issues that face the local community, jobs, regeneration, environmental concerns, health, poverty, etc. I have come up with many ideas, which I foolishly believed might aid debate.

I think I can safely say that despite all my musings, all my ideas which I admit some of which are derivative from other ideas that are happening around the country and in other parts of the world. I can safely say that my ideas have had no influence and to quote the Flemish proverb I have been pissing at the Moon these last 12 months.

A good example can be drawn from the green energy scheme the so-called “pioneering” project that the City Council have made with Eo-n. From what I understand the project just hands this potentially important element of economic regeneration over to a big company. All the profits will go to Eo-n; there is some vague promise that local jobs will be created- we will see. But why not go down the Birmingham path, for instance, where income generated from the feed in tariff will be used to self finance a scheme that will help fight fuel poverty, generate local jobs and assist local suppliers. Birmingham is even considering a local PV cell manufacturer cutting out the need to import cells from China.

But in this and seemingly in every major policy decision the Council flunked it as they flunked the regeneration agenda by to close an association with one company St Modwen. The Council has a tendency of putting all its egg’s in one basket. Is it surprising that some of the eggs are off?

Last September the Sentinel accurately reflected on a principle aim of the regeneration agenda. “At the end of June 2009, 29,115 adults in the City were claiming some form of unemployment benefit, including incapacity benefit. The figure is equivalent to 19.5 per cent of the city’s workforce, or one in five people.

That is far higher than the regional average for April of 13 per cent, and the national average rate of just 12 per cent

The total is now higher than the figure for 2006/07, when City Council and North Staffs Regeneration Partnership (NSRP) began trying to tackle the city’s unemployment problems.

Since then, the unemployment rate was supposed to be cut from 19.2 per cent to 16.8 per cent at the end of the current financial year”.

No one can claim although people try to, that the City is being overlooked. Over the year as I have reported before this area and Stoke in particular has received a great deal of State aid of which the Pathfinder/Renew project is the most recent and potentially the best funded. And yet the whole scheme has been terribly mishandled. I am scratching my head to try to understand how the regeneration agency can return on two separate occasions millions of £s because they have no projects on which to spend the money. And now we hear that staff in the regeneration department have been suspended and some one else has been questioned by the Police.

It is terribly sad for the many good, hard working people who work in the City Council to have to bat away a constant drip of scandal and incompetence that seems to beset the City Council. The history of the Council over the last 20 years is one of PR disaster after disaster and the political landscape is littered with burning hulks of Worldgate, the Cultural Quarter, contractual scandals and the Regeneration fiasco spring to mind.

I suppose the tipping point for me was the Worker’s Educational Association meeting in Cobridge last week when the senior officer made the faux pas about the manufacturing/engineering tradition in the City. He said that there was no tradition. I came away concluding is this what people think?

It might be comfortable for people in well paid jobs to cling to the myth that the people of the area are all thick, lazy and devoid of any creativity. After all you have to justify what you are doing to your commissioners. The figure of literacy levels for example seems to be a figure peculiarly prone to inflation. I have sat in meetings and heard figures such as 24%, 30% and 33% banded around and I have mentioned the officer of the REC making the comment that they “are all thick you know”.

It might suit people to believe this and that the locals are beyond redemption rather than thinking on them as a resource. Now I know Kenneth and others like Martin Tideswell make positive comments about doing things for ourselves but will you be allowed to? My experience when I have directed many ideas to Councillor’s and Officers of the Council is not a happy one. In my view it is very difficult to get ideas on an agenda of which my green ideas are a very good example.

I don’t want to be gloomy, but I think that the curtain has to be drawn on the City as an entity. I feel that the City Council missed a trick in the 90s when the government were looking for leadership from the Chief Executive of the time Brian Smith dithered on the future configuration of the area. It was a decision he avoided; however if you wish, ironically, for the area to survive then the establishment of a North Staffs Unitary Authority given what has gone on has to move up the agenda.

The concept of a unitary authority has to be linked with another idea and that is devolved power to local communities because I am increasingly of the opinion that therein lies the opportunity of really unlocking the potential that I know exists in the area.

I intend that this is my last post. I feel I have nothing more to add to the debate on the future of the area. I still intend to comment, but I have written extensively on the area and I feel that the creative seam is worked out.