Friday, 20 June 2008

Is Nottingham's workforce going up in smoke?

Billboards declaring 900 jobs at risk at Imperial Tobacco will have made more than just the firm’s employees gasp.
The news at the Lenton factory comes after a series of large-scale job losses at companies in and around Nottingham.
Economists may argue whether this constitutes a blip or a trend, but for the rest of us it is simply worrying.
When will the next group of workers be called into a crisis meeting? There certainly appears to be trouble ahead.
A study by the East Midlands Development Agency and Experian suggests a further 8,000 low-skilled jobs will be lost in Greater Nottingham between now and 2016.
However during the same period policy makers expect 8,000 jobs to be created in skilled industries such as science and technology.
This is the logic of globalisation.
Vastly improved communications mean production can move to where labour is plentiful and cheap while we take advantage of our well-developed education system and do the technical work.
For a long time globalisation has been a 'turn-off' word, a favourite of policy-makers and politicians when they are discussing issues that seem complex, distant and dull.
Now the consequences of globalisation are blaring out from the billboards and the local paper.
Our ability as a city to meet these challenges will depend in part on the answers to these five rather difficult questions.
- Are local authorities doing enough to get close to key employers to understand their needs and minimise future job losses?
- Are local people prepared and able to take advantage of the opportunities open to them to gain the education and skills they need to obtain a more secure job?
- Are local employers going to take on people who need to be trained on the job?
- Is Nottingham capable of identifying a credible vision for the future and uniting behind it to deliver a more skilled and motivated workforce in a city where those who live here want to stay and outsiders want to come?
- Does the city have the leaders to make this happen?


CHARLES WALKER, POLITICAL EDITOR

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Kicking Labour where it hurts over poverty

Charles Walker
Political Editor

Poverty and deprivation has become a hot political topic at Westminster and in the Nottingham City Council chamber.
The Labour Party, traditionally the party of the poor, has put great emphasis on its efforts to reduce poverty and inequalitynationwide during the past 10 years.
Indeed, it has a target to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve it by 2010.
But it is a tough task that is not going to plan, and the opposition see an opportunity to kick Labour where it hurts.
Figures out this week, reveal child poverty, pensioner poverty and inequality have all gone up, in the last year.
In Nottingham, child poverty is running at more than 40%, according to the Government measure, which is twice the national rate. Local estimates suggest six out of ten city children live in poverty.
So, when a plan aimed at tackling poverty and deprivation among city children came before Nottingham City Council this week, a political battle could be expected.
However, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives initially sought to make no political capital at all. It was a Labour councillor who opened hostilities.
Coun Mick Newton bodly berated both opposition parties claiming their national colleagues are not committed to helping children living in poverty. Coun Newton challenged his opponents to get on to their party HQs and demand more cash and commitment for this issue.
Lib Dem and Tory councillors looked shell shocked. After all, they had just offered cross party support to the Children and Young People Plan, which details local targets for improving education, health, and employment, for young people in the city, among much else.
Stung by the criticism, Liberal Democrat leader Coun Gary Long got to his feet. His response zeroed in on Prime Minister Gordon Brown for "incompetent and inefficient" efforts to support the poor.
The local debate appeared to demonstrate Labour’s sensitivity about the progress (or lack of it) in tackling poverty. Coun Newton's set piece speech was all about defending national Labour Party policy in this crucial area.
The response to it revealed the opposition’s belief that the Government’s underachievement in this area is damaging directly to the Prime Minister.
After all, Mr Brown has associated himself with tackling poverty both as Chancellor and now as premier.
But the knock-about stuff detracted from most significant issue. Nottingham now has a plan to tackle child poverty and deprivation that is refreshingly honest about the size of the challenge, and sets down clear targets for addressing it.
For more politics news and analysis visit our dedicated politics site

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Local controls could mean more city jobs

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell spoke in Nottingham this week about new measures to get residents back to work. Political Editor Charles Walker looks at how they might work in practice.

The large number of people not in work is one of the biggest challenges Nottingham faces.

About one third of the working age population in the city is not in employment.

More than 17,000 residents are claiming incapacity benefit, and about 10,000 lone parents receive income support.

Neither of these groups are included in the official unemployment figures, which measure people claiming Job Seekers Allowance.

And the consequence of so many people not working is six out of ten city children are now believed to be living in poverty.

Grim statistics, but there are signs of hope and the visit of James Purnell, the youthful work and pensions secretary, to Nottingham this week indicates the Government can see progress.

As rats leap from a sinking ship, so ministers don't associate themselves with lost causes. Mr Purnell's visit, which included a speech at a conference on employment, skills and poverty in Nottingham, brought a few issues into focus.

Firstly, he thinks Nottingham is doing the right thing in setting up a welfare to work programme, called Making the Connection.

It seeks to target benefit claimants, engage them in basic training tailored to available vacancies, and propel them into jobs with as much support as possible (both financial through the provision of bus fares and child care and social, through mentoring and advice).

But, everyone at the conference, including Mr Purnell, recognised that the numbers assisted will have to increase hugely if real progress is to be made.

The second message was that the Government intends to push more claimants back into the job market.

The Government is pressing ahead with plans to assess benefit claimants and identify what work they can do, rather than what they cannot.

Of course, he made the right noises about proper support for people in both these groups, but there will be significant concern among existing claimants.

The third issue was raised by those in Nottingham who work to boost employment. They want more autonomy from central Government to shape services to target help and support at priority groups here.

It may be they can use funding streams from the Department for Work and Pensions to pool with cash from elsewhere, say the health service, to give more assistance to people on incapacity benefit who suffer with poor mental health.

Basically, the local Employment and Skills Board needs control over some of the money spent in Nottingham.

This local flexibility may prove to be crucial if the Government's efforts to tighten up the benefits system delivers the desired effect of getting more people into work.

Mr Purnell sounded sympathetic but the test will be how many of the ideas he heard in Nottingham this week, make it into his Green Paper on welfare later this year.