Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Talent attracts talent

The science behind job creation

—The idea that politics is about the future is not a Clintonism; it is as old as any western philosophy. Ever since Socrates identified ‘the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but creating the future’, political discourse has been a debate between those that seek to conserve and restore, and those who are prepared to face the new frontier.

Labour’s success has always come when we have identified and articulated a clear vision as to how working people can stand and prosper on their own two feet. The welfare state, the NHS, the third way, and the white heat of technology, are just a few examples of such visionary, future-facing agendas. But since 2010 we have allowed ourselves to expend too much energy on how we might ameliorate the attacks on the most vulnerable, without identifying how we might raise all boats.

In local government it is even worse. The bar is so low that we are being reduced to red lines, and campaigning for ‘fairer formulas’ while delivering ‘fairer cuts.’ This is worse than the ‘vote Labour and get a free microwave’ politics that David Axelrod characterised Labour’s 2015 offer as. It is apologist, unambitious, shoulder-shrugging ‘best we can do under the circumstances’ politics.

In Haringey in north London, we are determined to be more ambitious than that, because our future depends on it. Once labelled the most unequal borough in Britain, it, like many economies reliant on middle-sized craft manufacturing, suffered as businesses moved operations overseas to exploit cheaper labour markets, taking what were reasonably well-paid jobs with them.

So when we developed our growth strategy, particularly with expected regeneration in Tottenham and Wood Green, we had to do more than deliver housing-led growth, which alone may increase consumption in the short term but will not bring about the long-term prosperity we need. Instead we wanted to build an innovation economy, which will add the new products and services that the urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs identified must be at the heart of real economic development.

The growth strategy resembles a micro-industrial plan, setting out a path to full employment by 2030. Naturally, there is focus on attracting new businesses through subsidy, so we can exploit events like Google moving to King’s Cross. Indeed, we are currently consulting on proposals to introduce three-year 30 per cent business rate relief to new businesses moving into the borough.

But more important than that was the recognition that these incentives are hopeless and unsustainable unless we can also ensure that local talent is equipped with the skills to compete for the jobs that are created.

Skills are not only important to improve employability, whether that is for a job in Haringey or elsewhere. They are important because talent attracts talent. They do not just attract employers and entrepreneurs just because they provide critical resource but because they create fertile communities for breeding ideas.

Every regeneration programme promises jobs, but the mix that is created makes a big difference. In an analysis of 11 million workers in 320 metropolitan areas, Enrico Moretti identified that for every high-tech job in science and innovation, five additional jobs are created in the local economy. These jobs are distributed at different pay grades with half the jobs in innovation sectors being accessible to those without degree-level qualifications. Furthermore, these jobs tend to pay more at entry level than their service and manufacturing counterparts. When compared to multipliers in creative and manufacturing industries, which are as low as 1.6 additional jobs, this is a dividend worth pursuing.

But Britain’s report card on its level of science, technology, engineering and maths skills does not read well. The United Kingdom is currently placed 21st in the world for science, and 26th for maths, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, behind the likes of Vietnam, Poland, and Slovenia. If this continues it is not just manufacturing jobs which will be at risk, and not just tomorrow.

This is a problem now. According to the UK Commission for Enterprise and Skills, high-level ‘stem’ jobs are twice as likely to be unfilled, due to a lack of people with the right skills compared to the UK average. In the digital sector alone, 147,000 jobs go unfilled every year, and a shortage of skills was identified by Tech City as the biggest barrier to growth.

It is a gap we are intent on filling, recognising it will afford people higher pay, greater job security and help make Haringey a hub for innovation. But we need to raise our game. Locally, Haringey lags behind both England and London with 68.9 per cent of students entering EBacc sciences, compared to 74.9 per cent and 76.5 per cent respectively.

It is why we have launched an independent ‘stem’ commission. Chaired by Labour peer and former chair of Ofsted Sally Morgan, and joined by Robert Peston, Andrew Harrison from Manchester Airports Group, Maggie Philbin and a local headteacher, Michael McKenzie, it will identify how attainment in these subjects can be developed throughout the education journey from nursery age to entry to employment, with a particular focus on those from less affluent backgrounds. It will assess and challenge the borough on whether the current post-16 offer provides a strong pathway onto higher education and high-level apprenticeships in the field. Finally, it will look at what barriers exist to accessing jobs in the ‘stem’ sector, especially for women, who now only account for seven per cent of those taking computer science A-level. The commission is due to publish its findings in the spring.

This may sound more like what Mario Cuomo called the prose of government than the poetry of the campaign, but we are in government – at least locally. Today’s new frontier has to be about how we can equip working people to maintain and improve their economic standing and security in a world being heavily disrupted by the twin forces of post-capitalism – globalisation and the internet. Such challenges go to explain why old left and right labels do not quite work. Instead the future belongs to those who, as John F Kennedy said, accept their own responsibility for it. In Haringey we do.

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Joe Goldberg is cabinet member for economic development, social inclusion and sustainability in the London borough of Haringey

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Photo: Elias Schwerdtfeger

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Joe Goldberg

is a Labour councillor for Seven Sisters ward in Haringey

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