Like a Russian doll of misery the jobs crisis has layers on layers. We all know about the problems in Britain, with an estimated seven million people who would like full time employment either out of work or working part time. Then today there is a report from the ILO questioning the effectiveness of austerity strategies and predicting widespread social unrest, and showing the number of jobs across the global economy to be still fifty million below the pre credit crunch level. Then looking into the medium term Jim Clifton, head of Gallup, has shown that employment is the single factor most strongly correlated with well-being across the world but has estimated that of the three billion formal jobs for which there is demand the global economy is currently creating only 1.2 billion.
There are many factors which determine how successful an economy is at generating jobs, not least of which is its underlying strength and level of demand. But picking and mixing from countries which do relatively well – like Germany, Austria and Uruguay – a broad approach suggests itself combining three factors: tax policies which encourage investment and job creation, active industrial policy directed particularly to areas with the greatest job creating potential, and industrial partnerships through which Government, employers and employee organisations work together on a core commitment to avoiding high unemployment. Our own Government is doing some very small things in the first area, but nothing that is likely to release the huge stocks of capital sitting in corporate bank accounts; there is also some talk of industrial strategy in the second area, but again it is very limited reflecting the Conservatives’ continued scepticism. As for the third, there has been little or no evidence of high level industrial partnership in the UK for over thirty years.
Much of this is fertile territory for Labour, although it is less vocal on the problem of weak and out-dated trade union leadership. But despite the rolling omnishambles the next election won’t be for three years. Mr Cameron could do with reasserting three things right now:
He is focused on the issues which most matter to people
He can be bold
He can do what it is the interests of the country even if it makes his party uneasy
On the initiative of our Chair Luke Johnson the RSA held its own reasonably successful Jobs Summit a few weeks ago. If I was advising Mr Cameron I would suggest he take a leaf out of our book. How about a major Number Ten jobs summit involving not just the Conservatives’ usual favourite business people but a much wider range of experiences and views (including, for example the ILO and TUC). Like the RSA event the summit could have sessions looking at both the short and the long term but with strong emphasis on solutions.
There are risks. Not just in what people will say but also the acknowledgement that the Coalition hasn’t got all the answers and in the implication that Government might be willing to explore some kind of new ‘post bureaucratic’ mechanism for industrial partnership.
As I know from my own time in Government, one good aspect of a crisis is that sometimes the left field suggestions to the Prime Minister which were previously discarded get called up from the records and re-examined in a fresh light. Who knows they might even look at obscure blog suggestions too?
By the way, it may only have been a subsidiary consideration but when the RSA decided to go ahead with our House redevelopment one factor was the sense that we should make our own contribution to generating economic activity and jobs in these austere times. As an RSA fan (if you are) you can make your own small contribution to the Society’s mission and to economic recovery by sponsoring my insane bid to run a marathon up a mountain.