Thursday, 31 March 2016

Banking, tobacco and textiles - why no outcry when those jobs went?


I was in Bingley this morning to catch a train. Nothing unusual here but it got me to thinking about steel and jobs and such. Mostly because slap bang in the middle of Bingley is the site of the former Bradford & Bingley Building Society HQ. The thousand or so jobs that went at the two B&BBS locations in Bingley are a reminder that the fallout from the financial crisis was real for many people - we're told the banks were bailed out but that probably doesn't wash much with all those folk who lost their jobs round where I live.

Indeed as I meander round my ward, I come across the evidence of past jobs - I live in a converted mill that once employed hundreds of people and was still a working mill (of sorts) up to the 1980s. The Pennine Fibres mill in Denholme is gone and is now transforming into another estate of family homes and the same goes for the woodyards, the circlips companies and the machining workshops. Thousands of jobs have gone from Bingley Rural since the 1970s - some because there isn't call for what they make, others because someone somewhere else in the world can make it cheaper and others because, like Bradford & Bingley, the folk in charge of the business crashed it into the financial wall.

I can look elsewhere in the country and see jobs destroyed by the malice of government - the cigarette plants in Nottingham, Bristol and Northern Ireland, the businesses that made cigarette vending machines in the Black Country, and the jobs making packaging in Bradford. Thousands of men and women, in the parlance over the press, thrown on the scrap heap by the actual decision of government.

So what is so special about steel. Why are we treating the closure of a couple of steel plants as some sort of existential threat, as a sort of emasculation of the nation? How come those banking jobs in Bingley, the livelihoods of women making cigarettes in Ballymena and the work of merchandisers filling up vending machines across the country - how come they don't elicit the same outcry?

Of course we're bothered about those steel jobs. It's a terrible thing to see a great industry - part of the fabric of places like Redcar and Port Talbot - struggling like this. But do people think that the building society wasn't important to the fabric of Bingley? That it's death didn't cause huge damage to the town and its surroundings? Yet Gordon Brown didn't chair emergency cabinet meetings to consider support for Bingley. No minister's foreign trip was cut short so he could be grilled about the closure and no special fund was set up to regenerate the town.

So forgive me when I'm less than ecstatic at the calls for protectionist barriers, illegal government procurement rules, state subsidy and nationalisation. Literally millions of jobs have gone from our economy over the past few decades yet we have the highest rate of employment ever. And granting special privileges to one particular industry for reasons of either sympathy or economic nationalism is both wrong and an insult to those millions of workers who lost their jobs in businesses neither the Labour Party nor the press gave a fig for.


No comments: