Monday 6 July 2020

Where is the planning for change?

Last week, the Tory MP for Monmouth accused those expressing anger over job losses at Airbus of ‘crocodile tears’ and argued that some people have “spent the last few years decrying the airline industry and talking about the climate emergencies and the rest of it… I hope they now realise that this is what they have been calling for”. It was a typically robust performance from a man not exactly known either for his sensitivity to the difficulties of others or for thinking about the consequences of his words. And I suspect that those Tories holding seats in the north of Wales – especially those who only won them a few short months ago – won’t be rushing to thank him for his intervention. But however poorly he expressed himself and however unthinking his comments, he does actually have a point. A reduction in flying will inevitably impact some jobs.
There was another, apparently unrelated, story in the Sunday Times a week ago in which a number of politicians, including Tory Theresa Villiers and Labour’s Andy Burnham, called for staff who have been working at home to return to their offices in city centres because the shops and restaurants there depended on their custom. Never mind that they have shown that they can work effectively at home, never mind that public transport is working well below normal capacity meaning that a return to city centre offices means an increase in the use of private cars with its accompanying congestion and pollution: shops and restaurants depend on their business so people should go back to what they were doing before.
The common theme is that those of us who want to build a different type of economy, one where people travel less and one which is less environmentally damaging and more personally fulfilling cannot legitimately also argue that all existing jobs must also be protected at all costs. A move to a different type of economy, to say nothing of the changes which automation and Artificial Intelligence will bring, necessarily requires some jobs to become redundant, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise. If we get it right, of course, then they will either be replaced by other jobs and/or we will find other means of sharing out both the work and the rewards for doing it; that is all part of the alternative thinking that is required.
The immediate problem is that some of these changes are being forced upon us at short notice by unplanned circumstances. And part of the reason that’s such a problem is that, prior to the pandemic, governments have given far too little thought to how we manage the necessary changes over a longer period. Even during the pandemic, little thought has been given to whether some of the forced changes (such as more home working) might be beneficially continued for the longer term; the emphasis has all been on ‘returning to normal’. The Welsh government prides itself on some of the legislation it has passed, such as the Future Generations Act, and so it should. However, passing laws is meaningless and pointless unless the government also acts to bring about substantial economic change in a planned fashion, and the simple truth is that there has been little evidence of that happening. Ministers have, instead, used every opportunity to support what is rather than building what should be.
The loss of jobs at Airbus is a tragedy for those involved, their families and local communities, but pretending that the downturn in the aviation industry is something that will last a few short months, and seeking to find ways of maintaining the jobs over that period, is a sticking plaster approach. The combination of Brexit and the almost complete shutdown of aviation as a result of the pandemic have made it obvious for months that there would be a problem for Airbus. Where is the thinking about how those valuable skills can best be employed for the future, where is the thinking about how individuals, families and communities can be protected and supported through a period of change? I don’t really expect to see any of that from a Tory government in London but it’s disappointing, to say the least, that we’re not seeing it from the Welsh government either. Protecting existing jobs is no substitute for planning and managing a transition to a different type of economy.

1 comment:

dafis said...

"Management of change"seems to be an abstract term found in management textbooks and magazines but almost totally absent/invisible in the real world. The whining about the decline ( and possible fall) of aerospace, airlines,travel and hospitality sectors is in sharp contrast to the rabid enthusiasm for a certain Greta only a few months ago.

You make valid points - so many of the changes are feasible it only requires the will to implement them. To mitigate "pain" it needs to be planned with a vision and related pathways to enable migration from our rather wasteful present to a more efficient future. So aircraft factories may need to switch to producing wind turbines,batteries, or recharging points for instance. And those inner city cafes bars and other feeding points may have to revert to being inner city residential properties in which case a new market for "hospitality" may germinate among those new communities.

Other have complained that booze is at the root of many of society's problems. Why crave the resumption of normal service as seen at various venues last weekend? Perhaps it is time to "call time" on the boozers just like we don't tolerate opium dens. Pubs and similar businesses dependent on drink as their core purpose need to rethink their market position, but that won't happen until society, or government, drive that change.

Too easy to revert to status quo, but with a few minor changes that is where I see us going because no-one is really up to managing major change, and eventually it will be forced upon us.