26 February 2015
Technology has allowed us to travel and see into places, peoples, cultures and happenings like never before. There are no longer hiding places for tyrants and dictators to commit atrocities with social media, for example, exposing the scale of atrocities committed in Syria that remained largely concealed just a couple of decades ago. Events in Eastern Ukraine that are exposed, for all the world to see, have immediate political impact. The Ebola crisis in West Africa seems not distant but directly connected to us.
Science and technology has truly facilitated “globalisation” of our lives but with huge paradox. Whilst we are more closely and directly connected than ever we are simultaneously becoming more divided.
Today we seem to stand at a crossroads. Global corporate interests hold sway over our politicians and the political decisions they make. For the past three decades power and wealth has been insidiously taken away from us as individual citizens and accumulated by a wealthy elite. Economists now inform us that 1% of the world’s population own 48% of total global wealth.
New disclosure regulations which came into force at the end of 2013, have revealed the annual value of remuneration packages of 557 Company Directors and executives. They include basic pay, bonuses, shares, pension payments, life insurance, private health and housing allowances, for the top 350 Companies on the London Stock Exchange, which amounts to a staggering £1.52 billion. The top 40 of these each received more than £6 million with the highest paid, Sir Martin Sorrell getting £29.846 million. Whilst the average rise in these packages had been 9.2% over the previous year average earnings for the whole UK economy had increased by just 2.1%.
At the other end of this scale the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that some 6.7 million working families were living in poverty with the Living Wage Commission estimating 5.24 million people are paid below the living wage of £7.85 an hour. And in some parliamentary constituencies this accounted for almost 50% of those in work. The foundation's report, “Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion”, also shows there are 1.4 million people working part time who can’t get full time jobs. The public services union UNISON has calculated that tax payers are subsidising this poverty pay “to the tune of £3.6 billion a year including £1.1 billion in means tested benefits”.
With the decline of the pottery, mining, steel, tyre and railway manufacturing industries locally all of this has huge significance for Stoke on Trent. The “Centre for Cities” report 2014 ranks Stoke on Trent as 62nd out of the largest 64 UK Cities in “business start ups and closures” with 24.5 start ups and 26.3 closures per 10,000 head of population. In Northampton, for example, rated 9th, there were 45 start up businesses and 35.9 closures per 10,000 population during the same period. Only Sunderland and Belfast performed worse than Stoke. With only 22.9% of the local population recorded as having high qualifications the study ranks Stoke as 56 out of 64 cities with highly skilled populations and with 17.1% of people having “no formal qualifications” Stoke is ranked 63rd with only Blackburn having more people without any formal qualifications. It should be no surprise then that average weekly earnings for Stoke on Trent, throughout 2012-2013, were ranked at 55th of the 64 major UK cities. Stoke on Trent secondary schools’ attainment levels have been ranked as 134th out of 151 education authorities in England.
I sincerely hope John Van De Laarschot was right when he said (Sentinel 24th January 2015) the young of our City want to build “a brighter future” here and “won’t accept second best”. If that means rejecting the entrenched hegemony that seems to be failing them and has prevailed in our City for far too long then we can have hope for a better future.
We do have a proud history of having been a driving force of the industrial revolution and the success of local enterprises like Steelite, Portmerion and Emma Bridgewater, in world markets, show we can still be as good as anywhere on earth but crucially we need leaders who are less interested in creating a low tax global village for the super- rich, the sheiks and the oligarchs in our capital city and enjoying, for themselves, the trappings of the “Chelsea set”. We need leaders with powerful voices closely connected with local people, their history, their everyday lives and an understanding of their aspirations for a better future. Hopefully an awakening of our young people will bring forth new leaders and with them a fairer, more equal, more vibrant and more prosperous North Staffordshire.
The Sentinel, February 14th 2015.
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