UK Unemployment: an issue of immigration or education?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 - Blog, unemployment


UK Unemployment: an issue of immigration or education?

Daily Star on immigration

The BBC had two excellent programmes shown last night, which addressed the key 2010 UK general Election issue of immigration.

The first was Evans Davies programme on BBC1 titled The day the immigrants left; the second was BBC2’s Newsnight investigation into the Education Visa issue.

The day the immigrants left

Evan Davis went to Wisbeach in Suffolk to raise the question, could British unemployed workers take over work currently undertaken by immigrant foreign workers? The migrant workers being replaced were mainly EU Eastern European migrants, plus the staff of a local Indian restaurant.

Three presently unemployed workers were sent to a potato packing factory, where only two turned up: the third considered it work below him. Three were sent to an asparagus picking farm, where all three turned up: and produced at best half the productivity of the mainly Lithuanian workforce. Four agreed to work in a locally well established “Indian” (actually, Bangladeshi like most in the UK are) restaurant: two didn’t turn up for work on day one, three failed on day2, and the fourth made it half way through day2. The final placement was of skilled carpenter who replaced a Lithuanian team on a wall lining job in a refurbished property, where he did such a good job (according to the Landlord; not according to the Lithuanian man he replaced as he used nails over screws) that he was eventually retained for two weeks over the nominal two day trial.

So, of the 12 positions created by the BBC which over 200 people applied for, the chosen twelve only turned up 68% of the time. One wonders why British employers like turn up on time, more productive and cheaper foreigners?

English Education Visa

BBC Newsnight investigated the apparent fraudulent and unauthorised issuing of Visa Letters (not visa’s!) by West London based Gateway 2 UK Education. For a sum of £200 on two occasions in early February, Newsnight obtained two Visa Letters, which nominally when sent with a proof of funds letters would gain a foreign student the required nominal 40points for an officially authorised education visa for entry into the UK.

As the story developed, it became clear that a legitimate UK private college that had been owned by a succession of “front” people was being used as a source of fraudulent Visa Letters, issued by one of its own administration staff. With the full co-operation of the former owner of the business and the current head of the college, the BBC collected 160+ fraudulent Visa Letters – all nicely and timely delivered by DHL.

In a later debate on the programme with Immigration Minister Phil Woolas (he of the media dressing down by Joanna Lumley), and shadow Damian Green, Kirtsy Walk got stuck in what was at its low point “lively” and its highest point uncontrolled/antagonistic debate which Woolas kept interrupting. The BBC were quite clear on their time scales, obtaining their Visa Letters on the 3rd and 5th of February, while the UK Borders and Immigration Authority only suspended the colleges ability to issues authorised Visa Letters on the 18th of February. As always Mr Woollas, check your facts!

This is a next-stage immigration issue to “ghost” colleges which Woolas cleared up in the majority last year by rightly shutting 2,000 colleges. But fraud in existing/legitimate colleges over ghost was again missed (ignored? Bulldozed actually…) by Woolas in the debate.

Employment: education

The reason for writing this blog post was three fold:

  1. Its employment related
  2. Its highly topical
  3. Immigration will be a key issue for the 2010 UK General Election. It will be a core policy for each of the main parties over how they will improve/tighten/repel immigrants to the UK. I really fear but expect to see the political debate go to the latter point as we near May 6th

But some of the key issues in the Newsnight debate are key for UK employment, and the debate on immigration:

  • The potato factory manager pointed out that if the were compelled to employ less productive and hence more costly British workers, then from a production cost view point they would deploy more automation. British jobs for British workers becomes British jobs for robots – much like they do in Japan, or any other high-cost economy
  • The asparagus farmer pointed out that if he had to employ less productive British workers, then he wouldn’t be in business. There would not be alternate work, just no work
  • The debate in the Newsnight studio moved to the Governments “back to work” programmes. I would agree with the unemployed worker from Davies programme who joined the debate: I am not sure that these are working as well as they could, or why would long term unemployment be rising in the last set of unemployment figures?

The final point from the Newsnight studio debate was quite simple: the UK needs a better educated workforce. The fact that the number of educated people under the Governments own measuring system (five or more GCSE’s at grade C and above) has fallen by 2% in the last 13years: says a lot above the effectiveness of the investment made. Tony Blair’s promise of “education, education and education” as the key priority doesn’t seem to be born out by the results: either graduating from school; or into the workplace.

I don’t think business people should get involved in politics: we simply have wider agendas than one party could accommodate. But as citizens it is our place to get involved in political debate.

My conclusion from watching both programmes: that the scale of the long term UK unemployment problem is a result of poor education over a lack of opportunity. The jobs the foreign workers are doing exist because it makes that business production model the most economic to create the lowest factory gate price at the best quality. That’s business! But leaving the barn doors of the borders open means we have a country which will not develop as quickly as it should, either economically or productivity/creatively.

If I had to pick a single agenda item for the UK General Election in 2010, it would be the same one: education, education, and education.

Good Luck!

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