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Totally Jobs

If you've nothing better to do on a dark February evening and feel tempted to Google the political archives, then you'll find that some twenty years ago, the UK's present workforce skills deficit was writ large upon the wall.

Gordon Brown's famous statement announcing British jobs for British workers has returned to haunt him this month but one has to ask why foreign companies, such as Total, think it more sensible to bus in their specialist workers from as far afield as Italy rather than recruit the necessary skills locally?

Back in the mid eighties, when I first dipped a toe in the political waters, I was asked to join Shirley Williams, Anne Sofer, Dr John Rae and several others in writing a House of Lords report on the UK's existing skills deficit. It was published as a Parliamentary White Paper (or was it Green, I can't quite recall) but it's in the archives somewhere because stumbled upon it quite by accident recently against a Google search against my name.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, those distinguished politicians and academics and this rather wet behind the ears IT columnist, looked at the education record of countries such as Japan and Germany and concluded that good old Britain would be up the creek without the proverbial paddle within a generation, unless Government, of any colour, woke up to the fact that as a nation we were becoming increasingly uncompetitive in a world that demanded a higher level of education and skills from developed nations. At the time, countries like Japan and Germany were churning out ten times the number of university-trained engineers and skilled apprentice jobs.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we've happily been creating millions of expensive finance, service and above all, public sector jobs, at the expense of the skillsets that we need to be competitive and which may go some way to explaining why UK manufacturing is moribund and why some companies might be tempted to offshore their workload or look for their skilled workers from abroad when they can't find what they need at home.

So there you have it, every Government since 1985 has known what it had to do to make this country competitive but none has managed to put in place the urgent programme that we needed as a nation to catch-up and compete on equal terms with our European neighbours, except perhaps in terms of 'Smoking Cessation Officers', Health & Safety Inspectors and of course a legion of overpaid and increasingly unemployed bankers.

"British Jobs for British workers"; it does sound a rather hollow promise twenty years too late.

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