Mr Redwood’s contribution to the debate on productivity, 17 June 2015

I reproduce below my argument on productivity in the Commons, as I wish to go on to write further posts on this topic building on the central argument I set out. I am sorry that the site did not publish it early this morning on this part – it appeared under debates. I have only just realised and remedied.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):The productivity puzzle can be understood and resolved. It is a combination of bad news and not such bad news. There was a sharp fall in productivity at the time of the crisis, because we lost a lot of very expensive output, a lot of people lost their jobs and the net result was a big fall. Since the crisis has hit, there has been a continued loss of top-end jobs in areas such as oil, financial services and banking, which score very well in terms of the way people compile productivity figures. An industry such as oil, which produces a lot of extremely valuable output and has a limited number of very well-paid people, gives an enormous boost to productivity, as we have learned today from Norway. We have just lived through a period when, through no fault of any of the three Governments who have been presiding over it, there has been a sharp decline in the output of oil—because it is now a very mature province—and a big fall in the oil price. That recent fall is down to market circumstance and to things happening well away from this country.

There was also a big loss of top-end jobs in banking and financial services. There will be mixed views in the House of Commons on the social value of those jobs, but they scored very well in the run-up to the crash. Some of those jobs have now gone all together and some have gone to lower tax jurisdictions elsewhere. The bad news side of it accounts for the drop in productivity during the crisis and the slow growth since the crisis.

The better reason why our productivity is below that of some of our continental comparators is that we have gone for a model—I think and hope with the agreement of all parties—of having more people in employment and of creating conditions in which this economy can produce many more lower paid jobs in the hope that that will lead on to higher paid jobs and more output and activity, which is a better model than those people being out of work.

Let us look at the way the productivity figures are calculated. If a country sacks 10% of the least productive people in the economy, which is the kind of thing that the euro was doing to some of our competitor countries in euroland, it can be flattering for its productivity figures, because the least productive jobs go, and the productivity of the total country rises, but the country is a lot worse off, because it then has 10% of its workforce out of work who would otherwise have been in less productive jobs. It is the same in a business. The easiest way for a business with below-average productivity to get to average or above-average productivity is to close its worst factory, but that is not always the answer that people in this House would like.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman is making the best he can of a bad job. For instance, if we look at the share of research and development in gross domestic product in the UK, we see that it was down not just over the 1990s, when we had the last Conservative Government, but for the period from 2000 to 2007. R and D is a fundamental component of productivity and it is down. He cannot gainsay that.

John Redwood: One has to first understand a problem before one can address the problem. I think we are all in agreement on this issue. Would we like higher productivity? Yes, we would. Would we like more better paid jobs? Yes, we would, and that goes for Conservatives as much as any other party in this House—probably more than any other party in this House. We not only will the end—more high-paid jobs—but are prepared to take some of the decisions that Opposition parties always deny or query in order to allow those better paid jobs to be created.

Let me go on from the analysis. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on what I have said and understand that I have provided a good explanation of the path that productivity has taken since 2007, which is a matter of common concern but has some understandable things that we cannot address. For example, we cannot suddenly wish a lot more oil into Scotland, and that remains a fact. We will not be able suddenly to create all those high-end banking jobs. Some Opposition parties probably would not like them anyway. We are where we are. What we can do about productivity is to work away on those parts of the economy where the performance has been most disappointing.

Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that cutting some of the red tape that affects our small and medium-sized businesses would help with the productivity puzzle?

John Redwood: I agree, but only if we have ineffective or over-the-top regulation. Removing it can give more people access to the market and provide a greater competitive challenge, but we need some regulation, because we need rules and certain guarantees in the market.

Let us take a sector that I asked the shadow Chancellor about. It was a problem that, in the Labour years, we had a long period of practically no growth in public sector productivity. I am the first to admit that the concept of productivity is more difficult in parts of the public sector. People actually like more teachers relative to the number of pupils, because they hope that that will create better teaching and a better system in classes, but it means that productivity falls. That means that we need other parts of the public sector, where the productivity issue is more straightforward or more like the private sector, to be even better, so that the overall performance of the public sector does not lag behind and cause difficulties. As we have quite a big public sector in this economy, the performance of the public sector is very important. It also happens to be the area where Ministers have most control and most direct influence, so it is the area that this House should spend more time on, because we are collectively responsible for the performance of the public sector. I think most parties now agree that we want to get more for less in the public sector, so that we can control public spending. There are disagreements about how much control we should exert on public spending, but I hope there is agreement that if it is possible to do more for less while improving—or not damaging—quality, that is a good thing to do.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) rose—

John Redwood: I am afraid I need to move on because many people wish to speak. Time is limited.
I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to the issue that I raised with him in my intervention. One very important industry that is almost completely nationalised—the tracks, signals and stations are completely nationalised and the train operating companies are very strongly regulated and controlled by franchises, so they are almost nationalised—is the railway industry. It is a growing industry, and this Government are committing a lot of money to it. It is an industry which, I believe, all the main parties in the House wish to commit money to and wish to grow and invest in.

However, an independent study in 2011, the McNulty report, showed that our railway does less for more cost than comparable railways on the continent. It should be a matter of great concern, and I hope it will be a matter for review by those dealing with the railways and with public spending, because as we channel those huge sums of money into our railway to try to get expansion and improvement, we need to pull off the trick that the best private sector companies manage—of driving quality up and costs down at the same time. A myth in some public sector managers’ minds is that a cut in the amount spent is bound to lead to worse quality or impaired service, whereas every day in a good private sector company they go to work saying, “How can I spend less and serve the customer better? How can I apply new technology so that I get more for less? How can I have a better skilled and better motivated workforce?”—I hope it is not done by unpleasant management, because that usually leads to the wrong results—and “How can I motivate the workforce more so that they are empowered to achieve more and do less?”

That is the spirit that we need in the public sector, and if we began with the railways, it would make a very important contribution to improving our overall productivity rate.


  1. Gary
    June 22, 2015

    not a word on manufacturing to export. And that is the nub of the problem. The Tories and labour backed the wrong horses for decades. They bet the farm on finance,the middleman who like all middlemen will be arbitraged away by technology, rapidly depleting oil, and selling houses to each other. This was a plan so short sighted it borders on criminally negligent.

    Instead of selling into an export market of potentially 7bn customers with 100x the potential revenue, through world class manufacturing, they took the easy route. Now they are scrambling around trying to make jobs for zero hours shelf stackers, burger flippers and estate agents. Then they crow about having low unemployment. That’s like a guy living under a bridge bragging about saving on CO2 emissions.

    This ship of fools has put the country onto the rocks.

    Reply The UK has expanded its motor industry strongly in recent years, has a good pharmaceutical industry, and is strong in aerospace.

    1. rick hamilton
      June 22, 2015

      Surely JR, it is not the UK that has expanded its motor industry, but foreign investors who have expanded their motor industry in the UK? In my lifetime the UK has gone from being a major vehicle manufacturer and exporter in its own right, capable of making just about every type of vehicle required, to being a sort of industrial estate where foreign owned businesses operate on instructions received from overseas HQs to whom profits are remitted.

      I will anticipate your possible reply that it is a global industry and we have an open economy. It is striking that the French, Italians, Germans and Japanese have strongly resisted foreign takeovers. Our approach is considered very suspect in Japan. They call it “free market fundamentalism”. Following the debacle of Labour interference in industry our governments have stood idly by while our national assets have been sold off. Frankly I cannot see why this is claimed to be such a great achievement.

      1. John Fitzgerald
        June 23, 2015

        I remember when we had a car industry, Austin, Morris, MG, etc. I also remember it was nationalised out of existence. It started to produce cars that were sub-standard. It seemed there was a strike every week. Do you remember Red Robo? I do!

        1. Jerry
          June 23, 2015

          @John Fitzgerald; “I also remember [when BL] was nationalised out of existence.

          Indeed it was, unlike both the German and French motor industry, bot of who were had significant state interventions at various points since WW2. I also understand how mistakes in UK (Tory) government economic/planning policies made it difficult for the UK car industry to compete, thus Roots were told to build a new factory hundreds of miles away from both its engineering base but also the skilled labour force it needed. So much so that whilst engine and transmission casings were cast at the new factory at Linwood (Scotland) they then had to be sent to Coventry to be machined, then sent back to Linwood to be assembled because Roots were refused permission to expand in the English Midlands…

          “It seemed there was a strike every week. Do you remember Red Robo? I do!”

          You mean like the militant union activity found in France…

      2. Ken Moore
        June 23, 2015

        The loss of our motor industry shames us and is a constant reminder of our decline . Foreign takeovers or ‘investment’ as it’s now called is no substitute for the security and potential riches of keeping hold of key industries.

        John Redwood doesn’t agree with me but we must ask why the French and Italians managed to hold onto their car industries despite having similar troubles as we faced.

        French car factories in the 70’s & 80’s had dismal productivity and quality problems. But look where they are today – that could be us if we hadn’t lost our nerve.

        Perhaps Mr Redwood in his memoirs might one day explain why his government thought it was a good idea to sell Austin Rover to BAE who had absolutely zero experience of mass manufacturing of consumer goods.

        Better management could have saved Rover but the government just wanted the company off it’s books at all costs in my view.

    2. Jerry
      June 23, 2015

      @JR reply; How many times, the UK doesn’t have a motor industry, we have mostly assembly plants or R&D owned by non UK companies so any profits are likely not to remain in the UK (with perhaps even certain tax liabilities), it would make not one jot of difference if the factory operatives were making motor cars or widgets if employment is all that matters.

      1. Edward2
        June 23, 2015

        But as many have said to you Jerry, we live in a global industrialised world.
        The UK owns or holds stakes in companies all over the world and foreigners own or hold stakes in companies in the UK.
        We make things here and export to the world just as foreign companies sell to us here in the UK.
        Who owns these huge often multi national public companies? Not some top hatted boss.
        Its millions of shareholders or individuals pension scheme members investing their money.

        As just a few examples, Jaguar Land Rover made £2.5 billion profit last year and paid hundreds of millions in Corporation Tax
        They have created tens of thousands of well paid jobs and are investing over £1 billion in R and D.
        BMW buys millions of parts from the UK for its assembly plants in Germany
        BMW’s biggest plant is now in the USA

        1. rick hamilton
          June 24, 2015

          Can you name one British owned motor assembly plant anywhere outside this country ? The point is not what variety of nationalities owns the shares but who controls the business. Clearly the major policy decisions for Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, MG and BMW are made in other countries, as they were for Ford and Vauxhall long before. That may be fine if we British think like losers, having no sense of pride in our own abilities, but I can assure you that our competitors never think that way.

          1. Edward2
            June 24, 2015

            So what is your alternative rick?
            Should we refuse inward investment because they are not Brits?
            Its customers who effectively control these businesses by choosing who they buy from.
            Our UK government owned car industry was rejected by customers who preferred alternative products.

            Even USA owned car companies have moved production out of the country to Mexico to survive and compete.
            So having UK owned car companies doesn’t mean they will not have to take tough decisions.

          2. Jerry
            June 24, 2015

            @Edward2; “So what is your alternative rick?”

            How about being more like Germany, even France?!..

            “Should we refuse inward investment because they are not Brits?”

            No, of course not, but that doesn’t mean with have to also sell everything including the kitchen sink along with the smoking barrel, as has been our way for far to long – all in the name of the “free market” of course.

            “Even USA owned car companies have moved production out of the country to Mexico to survive and compete..”

            Indeed, but those car plants are owned by those U.S. car companies, not their economic competitors, exactly the point Rick was making.

            “So having UK owned car companies doesn’t mean they will not have to take tough decisions.”

            No one is saying otherwise, the point being made is were the profits end up and who decided were any investment goes.

          3. Edward2
            June 25, 2015

            More like Germany.
            Yes that would be nice.
            Do you have a plan Jerry?

            You forget the huge investments Brits have in companies all over the world.
            Capital and profits flows in and out all over the world now.

            Parts for cars in Germany being made all over the world and assembled all over the world.
            Just as they sell them all over the world.

            You are too focussed on making cars. It us just one industry.
            The big recent successes for the UK have been in other areas.

    June 22, 2015

    “One has to first understand a problem before one can address the problem.” You retorted, thinking on your feet.Me thinks one must shy away from arguing with you when you are seated.

    Productivity is pretty hard to assess. Is a British wheelie-bin Emptier more productive than a Russian bin Emptier where the latter’s collective bin caters for numerous people? GDP and R and D would be interesting topics but not necessarily anything to do with the the productivity and arm-ache of trash collectors. Of course GDP is assessed differently even if the underlying statistics are based similarly which, they are not.

    In the US,- GDP is unlike the British version and is based solely on what people spend. It does provide a statistic of sorts. Some quote it widely. One problem is that the US GDP is based on cash transactions and takes no account of online spending by card.

    But back to productivity proper. I actually listened to your speech on TV and you miss out now quite gallantly a great compliment paid to you by an opposition party member referring to an article you penned in the FT on Productivity.

    In regard to Local Authority productivity: it may be easier to assess this in terms of trash. How many buildings have they built and trashed or found a new building to be trashy, the firm gone bankrupt, and the tax-payer required to make repairs and refurbishment.

    If a building should last 100 years and one sees a Local Authority pull it down after 30 years and rebuild it on the basis it is structurally flawed and also because Central Government has given it a wad of money to pay for such trash/waste then on a productivity basis one may say the real productivity of the Local Authority is in negative terms but instead it is assessed as productively producing two buildings, growth and much needed jobs for the local community. Weird.
    The UK is not alone in this world in having Local Authorities peopled at the highest levels by individuals who do not know their GDP for their R and D.

  3. ChrisS
    June 22, 2015

    Excellent point about the railways.

    We should start by converting the whole of the London Underground network to driverless trains as well as 100% automated ticketing.

    That should improve productivity !

    Increased productivity will be the only benefit I can think of from HS2 but spending £50bn to achieve a tiny improvement in productivity across the sector is ludicrous.

  4. Ken Moore
    June 22, 2015

    Dr Redwood,

    You made some good points.

    However your submission would have carried your weight if you acknowledged that allowing unlimited numbers of migrants into the labour market has destroyed incentives for improving productivity.

    It’s a pity that you had in your hand an opportunity to make the point that a higher wage/productivity economy requires us to withdraw from the Eu to get back control of our borders – but you missed the chance.

    Similarly, why should we be surprised that if you subsidise low paid/ part time work through family and tax credits…you get an awful lot of fragmented jobs and low paid work!. By endorsing continuing Labours welfare revolution your party is part of the problem.

    Why can’t politicians just tell us what we NEED to hear..rather than try to second guess what potential voters might want to hear and sugar coat unpalatable truths.

    1. Ken Moore
      June 23, 2015

      *Please delete previous post thank you

      Some very wise words indeed but surely it is right that BEFORE more money is ploughed into the Railways, serious reform to the management culture and ethos at Railtrack are made.

      Putting in more ‘bad money’ now will just embed the existing problems – that these organisations are run for the benefit of the senior management and Union reps first and foremost who will fight any change real change that threatens their cushy little world like a wild bear.

      To sort out the mess within Railtrack and the NHS will require a degree of both time and courage – two things that government seldom seem to have.
      Changing the culture of an organisation takes years of sustained effort – yet government even if it had the will has barely 3 years before it shuts down for the election period.

      Then the ball is inevitable thrown to the socialists who decide to sit on their hands. They are happy as for these individuals waste is just a ‘stimulus’ for the economy so can be ignored. A serious analysis of many areas will reveal that an army of people are doing ‘jobs’ that have little or no value – a problem that Mr Cameron would probably rather leave brushed under the carpet.

      Furthermore at the merest whiff of unpopularity, government will take flight and baulk at difficult decisions despite being in the national interest. Short term popularism always trumps long term wisdom it seems.
      For all her iron lady credentials, Mrs Thatcher never really got to grips with the endemic problems of inefficiency in the public sector – she and JR seemingly viewed it is as a hopeless task and sold much of it off.
      Unless Dr Redwood with his characteristic wisdom can now set out a new and better path ?.

      1. Jerry
        June 23, 2015

        @Ken Moore; The problem with the UK railways run deeper than the company responsible for the track infrastructure, the biggest failing is the way the industry was privatised and the government (of which ever political leaning) has been playing catch up ever since, it would have been better to have kept BR as it was by 1994 than the mess we have now, the whole system needs to go through another 1923 style regional “grouping” once again, and at the same time bring the relevant track infrastructure etc. into those groupings and make the single regional operating company responsible for the whole – infrastructure, passenger trains and freight, with the rail regulator setting the rules of access for inter-regional trains etc.

        Let’s just hope that the NHS is never treated to such a shambolic “privatisation” if it must be reformed/commercialised.

        1. Ken Moore
          June 23, 2015

          I agree the privatisation was botched and BR for all it’s faults is probably preferable than the useless arrangement we have now.

          Apologies I should have referred to Network Rail not the now defunct Railtrack in my earlier comment.

          I read today that Mark Carne who runs Railtrack is paid £675,000 a year, with the potential for bonuses to push his annual earnings over £1million. That’s over x6 prime ministerial earnings!.
          Somebody somewhere sat in a meeting and decided this was a sane and correct thing to do.

          How can a man that presides over a company which has shown :-

          – a terrible labour relations record
          – An inability to meet it’s targets
          – Overspending on a massive scale on many of it’s projects
          – A record of poor management detailed in several reports

          ..possible be worth a million quid!

          (This pay package was agreed by the Conservative led coalition).
          How can they have any credibility with controlling spending if they just hose money over the fat cats at Netwrong rail ?.

          Mr Carne had been in this position for a year when this report was published.

          1. Ken Moore
            June 23, 2015

            Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, ‘ Cabinet Minister John Redwood “argued for regional companies in charge of track and trains” but Prime Minister John Major did not back his view’.

            Another ERM moment for the hapless Major – perhaps if he had listened to our host he could have averted another disaster.

            Reply Yes I did produce the minority report!

          2. Ken Moore
            June 24, 2015

            Sounds like a much more sensible idea Dr Redwood – splitting the track part from the business of running trains was a recipe for disaster. At the moment the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing.
            Major really was a complete dud.
            Perhaps this report from the 90’s could be dusted off and the summary posted here ?

            Reply It was a government paper and I do not have access to it.

  5. Margaret Brandreth-J
    June 22, 2015

    Perhaps if the young tories behind you in the house were less rude and listened to you instead of getting together to discuss other things, thereby diverting the attention and drawing the house away from your speech then your proposals might of been explored.

    We all know how it is done now and of course they would be wide eyed an innocent. Bad career move lads.

  6. Lifelogic
    June 23, 2015

    I largely agree with all you say here.

    It would however clearly be more sensible measure output per person working (and people available to work) rather than just productivity per person who is actually working. Otherwise, as you say, you may improve productivity by just destroying lower paid jobs and lowering total UK output.

    You do however underplay the huge role of government in destroying jobs & damaging productivity.

    The bloated (& 50% remunerated and very inefficient too) state sector in the UK, the poor (virtual monopolies) of health care and education systems, the over complex (and high rates) tax system, the inefficient road and rail network, the over regulation of almost everything, the slow/over priced and very inefficient & multi-level, arbitrary legal system, the policy of expensive greencrap energy, the OTT building regulations, the restrictive and slow planning system, the OTT health and safety approach, the daft OTT employment laws ….. all these clearly destroy jobs and reduce productivity hugely.

    The state sector spends nearly half the countries wealth and yet perhaps produces only 10-15% of its output that is of any real value. Worse still it misdirects the private sector hugely with its green religion, all the other daft regulations, silly employment laws and all the many things I list above.

    Not many people regard the people killing in the pointless wars, the aircraft carriers without aircraft, people with degrees in divinity and the likes, HS2, OTT planning controls, endless motorist mugging, endless new complex taxes and all the rest as “useful output”. They are the opposite of useful output.

    1. Lifelogic
      June 23, 2015

      Government, in the main, care not what they spend, nor what is spends it on so long as they are paid for doing so. Is it any wonder we get so little of value from it?

      They are just as happy blocking the roads with islands, bus/bike lanes, anti car traffic lights, speed humps, bus stops that block the roads and the likes as are unblocking them all a few years later.

      Every time they go ahead with something clearly daft, such as HS2, greencrap energy or the Millennium Dome they destroy jobs and reduce overall UK productivity.

      When (and if) HSBC leaves the UK (due to over taxation and poorly structured/over regulation) what will that do for UK productivity?

      Governments destroy productivity and jobs every single day. Beyond law and order and defence that is largely what governments spend all their time and our taxes happily doing.

  7. The Prangwizard
    June 23, 2015

    I prefer the phrase ‘productive efficiency’ for example in discussing the subject. The word productivity alone can be misleading and confused with just ‘output’, and it introduces more clarity. Producing more of the same in the same way is not enough. It is vital that we invest in new machine tools and take a longer view and get unit costs down, and in service industries get tougher supervision even nearer the ‘shop floor’.

    A manufacturer must have more incentives to buy machines, and home based machine makers must be incentivised, even subsidised, to make them. We will be in trouble in the next economic downturn with all the imported labour we are taking on. Are the city spivs up to their usual tricks demanding immediate profits, or close down?

    We ought to look to other nations who have taken a longer term look at their development. They grow, we decline. Just look at all the industries we have lost and where other nations have taken over from us in the very same.

  8. Ex-expat Colin
    June 23, 2015

    So the thrusting with ISO 9001 during the 90’s and on, came to …not a lot? Endless quality consultants and internal/external courses. Slinging piles of cheap/poor IT at departments came to…massive problems/write offs and pretty much always.

    I wasn’t in any public facing depts so only have the experience of using DWP and the like. Big and awkward website, similar to councils. Does anybody quality review these services? Not sure whats worse…them or the banks. Common problem though and that always points directly at management. I used to call it contracting for cr*p!

    Railways…some of it works, for a while. Some of it surprised me really… except London. I don’t think that the concentration on London can be rail serviced adequately. Stick as many buses in as you like, just trying to get to the centre is a mess in so many ways. No amount of quality circles will ever fix that.

    Business does what it has to and some of that is dumb around retail. British cars…that pushed me to VW and BMW in the 60’s and forever. Rust moths…now we have the technology rats.

  9. a-tracy
    June 23, 2015

    If I were spending so much on temporary staff and cover staff for long periods of time, the first thing I’d do is train more people to fill the slots instead of encouraging too many teenagers onto courses that have insufficient jobs at the end of the three years in university.

    In the university league tables in the Guardian I’d be interesting when it says career after six months x%, it would be more useful to have a % of graduates in career with sufficient earnings to pay back student loan after six months. I noticed that nursing and midwifery has an employment rate of near 100% in the majority of institutions, Sports Science 50-80% at the best institutions, if this course is predominately physical health/physiotherapy why can’t it be incorporated into a specialisation in the nursing qualification so people have a skill useful to the NHS and sports. I wonder how many the universities are allowed to take on each course.

    1. stred
      June 23, 2015

      The head of the Royal College of Nursing (?) was on yesterday complaining that we would be running into trouble because of the plan to make nurses from non EU countries go home, unless they earned over £35k. We are only training about half of those home grown students who apply to study nursing.

      What he did not mention was that, wheras foreign nurses may qualify through practical training and study, in order to qualify in the UK it is necessary to take a degree level course involving essay writing and god knows what ever pointless theoretical study and examinations. At the end of this process the graduates tend not to be interested in caring for patients and want to become ward managers. It has been suggested that the enrolled nurse qualification should be reintroduced, with on the job training, but it is the Royal College and medical unions that oppose this ‘lower’ standard. Meanwhile highly paid NHS manager are busy migrating nurses from poorly paid countries and swelling the inward numbers.

      1. a-tracy
        June 24, 2015

        I know lots of nurses, quite senior now, who trained on the wards, took external training to specialise, worked their way up efficiently and got their degrees on the job. It makes me furious to hear union leaders talking like this, we have a lot of talented teenagers we could train. Encouraging both sexes to see the career progression and long term earnings and benefits packages. There should be entry level occupations that don’t need degree level qualifications but caring qualities and an ability to learn and advance vocationally as there used to be for none academic teenagers. Not everything that changed has been to the better and we shouldn’t import nurses with lower demands than we expect from our British educated children.

  10. stred
    June 23, 2015

    Whether government agencies are efficient or not seems to depend on the motivation of the chief officer. Increasingly, high pay and contracts rewarding failure have made inefficiency more likely. Our city has has been taken over by Labour from the Greens and the chief has been given £175k as a present for going away. They hope to improve bin collection and recycling by getting a new one.

    When I qualified as an architect my first job was in a local authority office. There was one chief, who did little other than committee presentations and hanging around at Christmas to intercept contractors ‘goodwill presents’. There was one deputy and three groups of project architects and technicians. On the whole the office functioned happily and a lot of work was available and done. Then in private practice I answered to one partner if things went wrong, but otherwise ran all aspects of the job myself and completed a lot over two years.

    As happened regularly, the UK ran into a boom/ bust and private work dried up, so I jumped ship back to another local authority office. This time there was a chief, two assistant chiefs, two deputies, and four group leaders to control eight project architects and a few technicians. The first thing I learned was that my work was to be programmed by a lady in charge of us all. who allocated longer than I thought possible. I soon found out why. There were standing orders in each bay taking up two long shelves and covering all aspects of design and construction. To read them or find the relevant instruction would take more time than doing the job.

    There was a system building project involving the chiefs and we were told to use components where possible. I was advised to ignore this by the architect who was leaving and I was replacing. Everything had to be reported back to the chief and, as seniority meant more days holiday, he took his in one go and buggered of to the Riviera every summer, while the office had to guess what he would approve for five weeks. Overall, any job would take about four times as long to design and draw as in a private office.

    The system building required large panels and movement joints, while restricting the range of components. There were no savings in cost overall, even discounting the cost of the chiefs running it. The systems were shared between LAs and produced some of the ugliest architecture ever. I have to look at a dreadful school built this way from my bedroom window and regret that it will not be pulled down and replaced with the much better modern designs which have been sourced from builders employing private architects at minimal cost, though unfortunately by PFI.

  11. Lindsay McDougall
    June 23, 2015

    Why do we not demand that public transport makes a profit? That way, the people that use trains and buses cover the costs of those services, meaning that taxpayers don’t. Why is it that extra payments to pensioners include concession fares? Should they be obliged to spend extra donations that they receive on transport.

    Why not treat free prescriptions, concession fares, the winter fuel allowance and the Xmas bonus as payments in kind and therefore taxable. Pensioners could declare them on their income tax returns.

  12. David Edwards
    June 30, 2015

    I haven’t seen it discussed in the media, but with the increase in the tax threshold and introduction of RTI there has been a shift from engaging people’s services in the “black economy” to employment under legal contract. Obviously the former is not taken into account for productivity and the latter is, giving the appearance of an increase in low productivity employment.

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