Thursday 23 February 2023

All of Great Britains endemic problems today are down to a lack of available workers

 I rarely stray into the territory of national issues, but sometimes things have to be said. I could give you a list as long as your arm of endemic seissues that are affecting people's lives. Here's just a few

* Unreliable railways

* Crumbling roads

* Long hospital waiting lists

* Sewage in rivers

* Bad schools

* Crime

All of these have the same root cause. There are not enough people to do the vital jobs to sort these out. The endemic delays on the rail network are caused by lack of staff. The lack of road maintenance is the same as are long hospital waiting lists, enforcement of laws around sewage and pollution and poor educational standards and crime.

Even if the government shook down the magic money tree again, as they did to deal with the pandemic, there simply wouldn't be the workers on tap to fix the problems. Train drivers, nurses, teachers, digger drivers, nurses, doctors and police take time to train up and you need people in the first place. The reason we are suffering inflationary pressures is because there is a shortage of people to do jobs, forcing wages up, that feeds into prices. For a couple of decades, this was masked by immigration from the EU. The word Builder started to have Polish added to it due to the huge numbers working in the industry. We all got used to hard working, cheap workers fixing our homes up and painting our walls. 

The advent of Brexit has stopped this in its tracks. The UK has suffered from bad productivity levels for decades. The reason? We were addicted to cheap labour, so didn't bother investing in automation and efficiency. Interestingly, in the 1980's we were leaders in factory automation. I worked for a software company called SPL International, which had a subsidiary called British Robotics, which installed systems for companies such as British Leyland, making automated assembly lines. SPL thought such business was the way of the future. Sadly, the UK never really took to automation in the way that the Japanese and the Germans did, which is why they still have homegrown car industries and we don't. 

I sometimes wonder where all of the people went? The population is far bigger now than in the 1970's' but then we had bus conductors, train guards, police on the beat, people to slice cheese for you in Sainsburys in Mill Hill, fishmongers to chop the guts out of your kippers etc. Now such things are rare. 

A friend was tellling me that his daughter phoned in a panic. She'd invited friends around for dinner, found a wonderful recipe for sea bass, bought some from the fish monger, as she wanted the highest quality, and got home to find it had a head still on and the guts in. My friend had to zoom around and fillet it (he's not a fishmonger BTW). He told us, over a pint, that she'd been traumatised by the whole episode and was seeking therapy (Although I suspect this was a mild exxageration). 

A couple of years ago, my house drains were blocked, so I dug the rods from the shed and unblocked them. As I was finishing, a lady from up the road stopped. She explained that her drains too were blocked and she couldn't get anyone to do them as they were too busy. Without thinking, I offered to lend her the rods. She looked horrified. She replied "I was rather hoping you could do them for me". Seeing the look of bemusement on my face, she said "I'll pay you". As I had them out, I said "Ok, I'll see what I can do". I walked up, opened the manhole cover, put the rod down and within about five seconds, there was a strange gurgling and the drain cleared.  She stared and said "They wanted £300 to do that". She then said "How much do you want?". I replied that I didn't want any cash, but if she wanted to, she could donate some grub to the Colindale Foodbank. To be honest, it was no trouble at all. A day later, an M&S receipt for £100 groceries was posted through the letter box, with her name and phone number on the back and a note saying "Thanks, donation to the foodbank". It seemed like a fair quid pro quo. 

It made me think about where all of the jobs have gone. I suspect that we've stopped people doing useful jobs, such as beat police, bus conductors and train guards, which make vulnerable people feel safe on public transport and got the doing all of the jobs we are too lazy to do, such as saving us walk down the road for a pint of milk or a takeaway. There are apparently 112,000 people working in delivery now. The reason it costs £300 for someone to spend five minutes unblocking your drains is because no one wants to do it. It's far nicer taking a McDonalds around to Mrs Beans, even if you only earn a tenth of the cash. 

As a business owner, we have a constant requirement for staff. What is amazing is how everyone wants to work in a studio, but so few people actually think of getting qualifications. The sad truth is that the UK is a nation that is getting fatter by the day, as we'd rather pay someone else to walk around the corner for us to get our ready made takeaway dinners. I had a beer with a mate a couple of weeks ago, who works in IT at home. He told me that the drink was the first time he'd left the house for a fortnight, he'd had all of his meals via deliveroo etc. I was quite shocked and realised he'd put on weight and developed an unhealthy colour since our last drink six months ago. In many ways, delivering fast food is the perfect job for the UK in 2023. No skill required and no job security. It amazes me to see people ranting about train drivers being paid decent wages to do a skilled job that requires a lengthy apprenticeship and constant retraining. 

Perhaps the oddest thing about the UK labour market is the law forbidding asylum seekers from working. This means that they have to sit around being a drain on the tax paying public, whilst vegetating. Personally, I'd rather that anyone who was able bodied and seeking asylum had to pay their way. It can take years for asylum seekers to have their cases determined and work would keep them healthy and add to the economy. The reason that we have such a backloig is, rather ironically a lack of workers to process applications. 

What the UK needs is a plan to address all of this. We need an economy that is built on productivity, education and hard work. We should want able bodied people seeking asylum to know that if they come to the UK, they will have to work hard and will not be automatically entitled to never ending benefits. I personally would fast track those who contribute needed skills to the country through the system. 

The sad truth is that thirteen years of Conservative government has caused a huge imbalance in the UK labour market, that has lead to bad productivity, a semi collapse of many industries and a vulnerability to inflationary pressures. I read Sir Keir Starmers proposals for a reboot of the EU economy. I see nothing concrete. Until we have a proper plan, we will not move forward. When Brexit was first promoted, the one benefit I thought we may have would be a move towards better productivity and more labour efficiency. Sadly there was no plan, so we simply cut off the supply of cheap labour and watched the economy start to collapse. It is really quite ridiculous. 

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