Wednesday, 25 February 2015

PFI - the Tory policy Labour ran with that describes them all.

This excellent article by Ian Martin in the Guardian has reminded me of a time in the early 00s which sums up privatisation with all its excesses.

I left University in 2000 and scratched around doing temporary work for a while. I was initially looking for a job in or closely-related to Graphic Design and I thought I'd got one at a reprographics company in Manchester. The job itself wasn't as important as the opportunity to expand my social horizons. This was my chance to get out of the insular town that ridiculed me and made me feel totally unwelcome and experience a 21st Century city with bars and clubs that didn't demand you wore smart clothes to get horrendously drunk and into needless fights (I didn't want to do any of these things but in places like Chorley or Wigan in the 1990s, it was mandatory if you were young and wanted to socialise). It was great: the best decision I ever made.

The job did turn out to be crap, though. A sweaty, cramped space on a busy road with far too many big, hot, frequently broken printing and copying machines and very little ventilation from the polluted street. The clients giving us the most work were the big building contractors and their mysterious parent companies and clients. This was the New Labour boom years and Manchester's regeneration was still in full swing.

In the above paragraph, I carefully chose the rather clanging phrase "The clients giving us the most work were the big building contractors..." because it accurately describes the situation, much more so than saying "The biggest earners were the jobs for the big building contractors..." because these huge companies spent a lot of time and effort avoiding paying anything at all. There was one printing company who we sent a lot of large jobs to who were so infrequently paid by their largest client that they closed down three times in as many years, only to open again shortly after under a different name. This was the days when few people paid their debts (have they gone away?).

Around 2001/2002, our biggest client became a company called Catalyst Healthcare (I think this happened because my employer poached two sales reps from a rival company who had held the contract - because that, depressingly, is the way things work). Catalyst were the PFI arm of Bovis Lend Lease (and may still be) and whenever public money for a new hospital was up for grabs, they threw millions at it.

Catalyst were throwing so much money at us that whenever they were preparing a bid, they basically took over the company. We switched from 8am - 7pm opening to 8am-8pm and 8pm-8am shifts 7 days a week for fortnights at a time, The night staff just worked for Catalyst; the day staff were meant to do just as much for them but everything else too. Catalyst staff stayed in the nicest hotels they could find nearby at short notice and hung around the already-overcrowded printrooms, hooked up to caffeine drips and occasionally disappearing out for meals and drinks. They proudly told stories about corporate excess, such as the guy who told us he'd recently bought a new Audi TT, taken it to a race track for a spin and promptly blown the engine whilst doing doughnuts. They had us putting together and printing masses and masses of bid documents, only to then change a bit which meant a complete reprint. This happened again and again and again and each time, they paid for what had been produced and subsequently binned (as far as I know, anyway).

The wasted money in the bidding process that I was aware of was shocking; I wouldn't even like to guess at how much each bid cost in total. Just thinking about the money spent on bids they didn't win...the bids they did win must have been so worth it for them.

I worked there far too long and was eventually fired for losing my temper (within earshot of the shop) when, under immense pressure, another printer broke on me. I could have appealed: no kind of proper disciplinary process was carried out, but I was only too glad to leave and I have the great pleasure of being able to say I have never since had to work on behalf of such free-market wastefulness ever again.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

BBC Tory Bias

I'm not much of a fan of Jack Straw and yes, what he has done is wrong and if he wasn't retiring anyway, Labour should make him stand down. But the BBC have really done a number on him.

"I charge £5000..." I saw that bit a dozen or so times on the BBC before seeing Channel 4 news and the part where he says that he would not do it whilst standing as an MP. That's crucial. That shows that, whilst he's clearly looking to use his past positions of power to improve his already healthy finances, he is at least waiting until his is no longer an MP before he does so.

However, with their Tory editor and clear Tory bias, the BBC are looking for as many reasons to attack Labour as they can in the run up to the election and their selective editing has done just that.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tory free labour will devalue already undervalued jobs

The Tories have again fallen short of reintroducing workhouses - something I'm certain many would dearly love to bring back. What they have pledged to do, however, is to force young unemployed people to work 30 hours per week to earn their benefits.

My cynical, Tory-hating brain jumped to the conclusion that these jobs would be in profitable retailers, taking (poorly) paid jobs from people but apparently, they'll be charity jobs and helping to care for elderly people. Let's assume for now that this is true: it may be. Is it such a bad thing to have more charity workers and more people caring for those who need it? Well no but it will seriously devalue certain types of job which are already terribly poorly paid (many under the minimum wage where staff are taken on as 'self-employed' and travel time between jobs is not covered). Care workers need to be paid more, not have their jobs done by young unemployed people.

The second, larger point is: what's the point? Well the young people working certainly won't benefit, unless they had envisaged a career in charity work or elderly care. What it will do is massage the unemployment figures because the Tories won't include them, even though they'll be on an equivalent benefit.

And I would also return to my first point: what right-minded Tory wouldn't jump at the chance of providing free labour for a donor or business chum? And how many Tory donors' businesses would branch out into areas where they could get free labour?

When ideas like this are bandied about, I always consider what the ultimate conclusion would be and whether that would be a good thing or not. In this case, the ultimate conclusion is free labour for the rich and well below minimum wage for the rest. Which sounds like a great nasty Tory policy to me.