Of Devolution, Power and Inequalities – a report from Manchester Policy Week

On Monday 2nd November I attended the first day of the University of Manchester’s Policy Week. The “big event” was Michael Heseltine’s keynote “The Forgotten People”. At least he was honest about his approach to devolution: there must be a top down boss, but he did advocate devolved control over far more money, including a larger chunk of the infrastructure budget. “Then we will realise the energies of the locals and get real growth – This is consistent with his behaviour when he was the President (Minister) of the Board of Trade, when apparently he often wore the President of the Board of Trade suit from 18th Century and had his desk put on a platform so he was always higher than the rest of the people in the room! He also made clear any devolved power must be within the overall policies set by National Government, which made me wonder how much devolved power there would really be!!!

I also attended a session on employment inequalities where we were told that:

1. Since 2002 as GDP goes up, except for the high pay, real salaries have gone down – for Full, Part, Women and Men. Often overtime pay gone.

2. As bottom salaries have been raised though minimum/living wage, the gap between bottom and median has got smaller.

3. 700,000 middle income jobs have gone in the last 10 years and with GPD increasing, the rate of decline of these jobs is increasing. The drop has been particularly seen so far in accounts-related work, retail managers, within construction, housing and postal workers, plus in some manufacturing areas.

4. World-wide the rich are getting richer but in the UK we have a huge concentration – over 50% of the top 1% for all EU countries resides in the UK.

5. Growth of the self employed in UK is huge 56% increase from 2001-2010 and another 46% since 2010 and majority of these are on low income.

Perhaps the most surprising finding outlined is that adding skills to Level 1 and 2 (O level) workers leads to virtually no improvement in their employment – pay or conditions.

Adding skills to Level 3 (A level) and 4 workers shows a marginal chance of their employment improving but as these middle income jobs are quickly disappearing it is becoming harder for that gain to be continued.

Adding skills to level 5 (university) workers still gives them a chance of employment improvement but as the percentage which gains is dropping due to increased numbers of workers with Level 5 education and decreasing middle income employment, leading to the term “Educational con”. Gradually people are finding their costs for higher education; often resulting in large debits has less and less influence in increasing there job prospects. We were told an increasing number of employers prefer to train in house. This year Manchester College has made its first large scale lecturer redundancies – a similar threat to universities seems to be on its way.

The current lack of social mobility through work related activities was highlighted by a key finding – Only one in five people who were employed on low pay in 2002 had escaped low pay by 2012.

What is to be done, with increasing contracting out, especially in the public sector, plus rapidly decreasing middle income jobs leading to crowding of the job market at the bottom end reducing any chance of shortages leading to pay increases? The panel only suggested very small technical answers. I accused them of avoiding the basic question of the growing imbalance of power between employees and employers, suggesting real change would only come when workers had increased power through TU, ownership, and employees’ power on Boards etc. One of the 6 speakers came back and said yes the imbalance of power is the biggest problem, but I thought the others just looked bemused.

Maurice Barnes
Steady State Manchester collective

For a contribution from SSM to Policy week, see also this post.

This entry was posted in economics, event reports and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Of Devolution, Power and Inequalities – a report from Manchester Policy Week

  1. Pingback: With GDP growing and incomes catching up with inflation all is well – or is it? | Steady State Manchester

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