Sunday, February 15, 2009

British Government’s ‘Virtual’ funds

The UK Government recently made announcements about how they were going to help small business owners and also assist people made redundant, not just the unskilled, but executive and professional people as well.

What is in question is do those funds actually exist and are they ever going to reach the people who need them. From what I've seen in the last few days, the answer seems to be a big ‘NO’.

A few weeks ago I had a ‘mystery shop’ assignment that involved visiting my local JobCentre Plus. I hadn’t been there for a while, so wasn’t recognised while I was browsing around looking for posters and trying out the interactive terminals on which you can search for jobs. Later on the assignment required me to reveal who I was and what I was doing so it seems OK to refer to it here. The second part of my job that day involved talking to a manager and after the business I came for was done, I set aside my notebook as I wanted to ask some tough questions unrelated to my assignment.

The initiative to provide additional training for workers at all skill levels had just been announced. More than a year ago, when I WAS visiting the Job Centre regularly, I asked them for funding for some specific training that I felt would help me get back in the job market. I was refused, because they said there was no mechanism for funding in that way. The Government announcement seemed to indicate that this had all changed and I asked the JobCentre manager directly if this was the case.

“Oh yes” he said “We could almost certainly do that now”, “Things have changed since you were here last” I was assured. He went on “The way re-training can be funded is going to be much more flexible”. I also asked about age discrimination and he said that there were ‘initiatives to ensure it didn’t happen’ and this included local and central Government funded posts and education. I applied to Portsmouth City Council, Portsmouth University and Havant Borough Council, in some cases for more than one post, and was turned down each time.

Since then, Channel 4’s Dispatches program 'Too Old to Work' has exposed just how deeply age discrimination is embedded in employment practices and even enshrined in law. I recognised many of the weasel words used in interviews and in rejection letters I had received and encountered before I decided to try to earn a living outside of the wage slave economy.

Words such as ‘over-qualified’, ‘we feel you would not fit into our culture’, ‘you would be bored’, ‘this is a very young company’, and ‘would you have a problem working for a manager younger than you’. I had been told that I was being paranoid, that these words could not positively be proved as being ageist, but perhaps now it has been on national TV, if they are used against YOU, I suggest that you think very hard about whether it is actually your age that they have a problem with.

In the program, a young woman, not even fully qualified in accountancy and her father, a qualified and very experienced accountant applied through the same agencies. The young woman was offered a range of opportunities, interviews with agency consultants and with companies. Her 50+ father was told in several cases that the agency had ‘lost his CV’ and all the phrases above came out in relation to jobs he had seen advertised and felt he was well suited to.

On Friday I gave a friend a lift to his JobCentre benefits signon appointment. He has a similar number of years experience in IT as I do and is of similar age. Being male, he has a couple more years to work than I would before state retirement age. He asked the same questions I did, only a couple of weeks ago.

He was told that there was NO money for that purpose, it had been re-allocated to ‘new initiatives’ . So, instead of spending a couple of hundred pounds to spend on us teaching ourselves new software skills that would help fill IT vacancies that are still out there, the British Government would rather spend THOUSANDS on social security benefits until we reach retirement age, then additional retirement benefits to top up our income because we will have spent every penny of savings that we might still have. Very clever.

With reference to the business loans, I heard, on the radio, the sad story of a couple from Scotland who were looking for funding to expand their café and catering business. They visited several banks to ask about the much publicised Government guaranteed small business loans. No-one at any of the banks knew how these funds could be accessed and some of them had never even heard of the announcement. The people had been persistent and asked the banks to ask their head offices – still no information and no deals. The radio item featured an Opposition spokesperson asking how this could happen. Hadn’t the entire scheme been discussed with the banks at all?

In both cases it seems that there is an imaginary pie in the sky full of money floating over Westminster with a number of labels attached to it for what it might be spent on. No one can actually get to the cash, and as the priorities are seen to change for the reasons of keeping the press and their own back-benchers quiet, the PM, the Chancellor, Business Secretary and so on just re-earmark the funds for a new purpose.

Presumably that pot of money is now going to be used to prop up the marriage of Lloyds TSB and HBOS who the Treasury encouraged to get together only a month or two ago.

It just doesn’t add up does it.

I really wish I could draw cartoons. Along with Gordon Brown’s assurance that he knew nothing about the FSA hush-up that banks were over–exposed to toxic debts, the humbug flying around the Houses of Parliament this past couple of weeks would have given me endless subjects for my pen.

Maybe I could go into partnership with someone who CAN do the artwork.
Picture this. Gordon Brown is painting himself into the corner of a room. Written across the floor are the words "FSA incompetence" and "banks over exposed". I predict that he is going to regret saying he knew nothing about it.

Or this scenario - dear Gordon is pictured as a grouse with a bevy of guns pointing at him bearing labels of all the things he has said and are very likely to come back to haunt him at some future date. The guns are being fired by his own Cabinet Ministers as well as the Opposition, and somewhere in there you might just find the wonderful Jeremy Clarkson as well who aimed a few shots of his own at the PM recently.


Emm said...

This is a good post - you should try submit it to a newspaper!