I found the BBC Economy Debate last week very frustrating. In its discussion of unemployment the entire focus (until that is, the last 5 minutes) was effectively on how big business and or big finance would create the wealth and jobs that London would need to stay vibrant in the future. Says Colin Crooks
On creating jobs we heard how the City was an enormous provider of jobs in the capital and how it could, if unfettered, create even more jobs. We heard how Westfield in Stratford had created thousands of jobs via established retail brands. On job losses, we heard about firms like Ford reducing their operations in Dagenham and we were told that manufacturing inLondonhad declined from a heady 40% of employment in the 50s to below 5% now.
Aside from the maverick interventions from one small businessman on the panel, there was nothing in the debate to suggest thatLondon’s true heart is in it small businesses and its social enterprises. You could be forgiven for thinking that the entrepreneurial heart had gone out of Londoners and that unless a big corporation was prepared to create jobs nothing was going to happen.
So, when Evan Davies showed a video of disaffected youngsters in Dagenham bemoaning the lack of jobs any viewer would have been struck by an all-encompassing sense of helplessness. Manufacturing is dead, finance and retail gravitate to where the money is and the poorer parts ofLondonare beyond hope.
Exciting new high tech entrepreneurs were glimpsed as one way of stirring growth inLondon. And I’m sure they will – for those people with the skills and education that can grasp those opportunities. Still nothing though, to raise hope in the depressed inner city areas of London (such as Tower Hamlets and Newham) where unemployment is as bad as the worst black spots outside of London such as Hull and Birmingham. For it is no coincidence that these same areas have some of the lowest levels of education attainment inBritain.
Then finally, we got a brief flash of grass roots inspiration, of real Londonflare. Active Change Foundation showed us what young people can really do and how business can work to solve the real everyday issues that people face.
With some help and guidance, six young people have set up a social business, Exterminators, that provides pest control to some of the worst estates in eastLondon. Residents like the service and the business is starting to grow. When Evan asked one of the young people a question about what he would be doing instead he replied, “I’d need to get money somehow – legally or illegally – it’s all about the money!”
Yes its all about the money – but not how much but where it goes. At the moment, councils and large companies spend their money with equally large organisations who can speak their language. Precious little of this money is spent with small businesses in the locality. If councils and others spent even a few percent of their money with business like Exterminators, we would see unemployment in even the hardest hit places come down.