The Green Shoots Of Recovery Only

On the day that reported figures for the number of people applying for unemployment benefit reached nearly 2 million (Wed 19 January) the Guardian newspaper ran 34 broadsheet pages of job opportunities in the public sector.

TDuring that same day government spokesmen were enthusiastically talking on radio and television news programmes about the re-training opportunities that are being developed for people who had lost their jobs. Some of those opportunities focused on the public sector. These policies, allied with the government’s current eagerness to get the long-term unemployed back into work, completely miss the point of the crisis which now faces this country.

The UK can employ thousands more people – the Guardian’s pages illuminate that fact clearly. But none of these jobs will bring the vital earning power which our country needs so desperately.

The salary of every public sector employee is paid out of the taxes and earnings of those in the wealth-creating sector. This equation has become increasingly lop-sided over the past ten years with over 700,000 being added to the public payroll. Yet central government departments, local government and public bodies continue to look to recruit in substantial numbers while businesses in every region of the country announce job losses on a daily basis.

Re-training for people who have lost their jobs should not be focused simply on filling the vacancies in the public sector. We must encourage people to start their own businesses, become creative in their working aspirations and look to bolster Britain’s efforts in the export market. Allied to that we should be encouraging people from overseas to come to Britain with their businesses, to set up UK operations and look to employ British staff.

Whatever unemployment figures are achieved at the end of this year, a far more important figure will be the number of people gainfully employed in creating wealth for this country rather than being reliant upon the public purse.

UThere should be growing concern that the ever-growing range of bureaucratic impositions on small businesses will hobble the chances of many small enterprises wishing to continue in today’s difficult economic marketplace. It is not enough to suggest that bank lending is the only problem for SMEs and that government efforts to force banks not to call in loans will keep small businesses maintaining their employment registers and even recruiting.

Confidence in the country’s prospects is ebbing away. People are being encouraged to spend to save the economy from seizing up. However, the only people today who feel able to spend with some abandon are those who are currently working in the public sector and feeling secure in their jobs. They also have the assurance that should their jobs come under pressure then they know their experience will allow them to apply for one of the many jobs appearing in the recruitment pages of Guardian.

That picture must change if this country’s future is not to be seriously undermined. The government should now throw all its weight behind home-grown business. It may mean a decidedly more difficult time for the public sector in this country, but I believe there is no alternative if we are to achieve an economic recovery.

The up-coming issue that dare not speak its name is that of pensions. Gold-plated public sector pensions (such as those enjoyed by MPs) will seem increasingly incongruous when compared to private sector retirement packages – not least when corporate insolvencies take hold and wipe-out occupational pensions. This has the makings of building serious public unrest as an increasingly impoverished private sector workforce is compelled to pay for a feather-bedded public sector whose retirement income is guaranteed.