A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Lies, more lies, and reasons to be cheerful

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford climbs atop another personal soapbox
I am afraid that I may go on a bit of an off-subject rant today but, for some unknowable reason, a simple line from a perfectly innocent and uplifting news story has made me come over all tetchy. I expect, when you hear what I’m about to bang on about, you’ll treat me with a faintly supercilious or even patronising air. Well, I’m sorry but it’s something that really used to annoy me in my previous life as a man of the world and it has been triggered all over again.
What really, REALLY gets my goat (which is a fairly stupid phrase, once you come to think of it) is the sloppy use of words and phrases that are sprayed around unthinkingly. This particular bête noir was revived by headlines about a major new development at Hull Docks.
It was a headline that, all too often, is complete and utter bunkum; a supposed ‘fact’ that has been uncritically swallowed which, in reality, is just a piece of puff produced by a parasitic publicity person without a proper perception of plausible prognoses
 Let me elucidate.
Over the past few decades, whenever a new speculative office or retail park was proposed in Britain the developer would issue a press release. Invariably, it would feature a computer-generated model of the development (which was so imprecise that it could have been drawn by a ten-year old with crayons) and a headline that screamed: “Will create X,000 jobs!”
Rubbish, cobblers, pooh-sticks and other naughty words. Merely building a new office block or retail shed doesn’t, of itself, generate a single long-term job (except perhaps for security guards). Once the builders have left the site then that’s it.  Just because you might have a building in which you can cram 2,000 office drones with a parking allocation of one space for every 0.2 of them, it doesn’t mean a thing. The building has not ‘created’ a single job.  Some of these buildings may, in fact, never even be occupied in between the optimistic popping of champagne corks and subsequent attentions of demolition crews.  The headline should read: ‘Might accommodate X,000 people if the demand is there.”
My old, cynical reflex was triggered when I saw: “10,000 new jobs” were being created by Siemens’ massive investment. I scoffed in a sniffy, superior fashion –but then I started to think. Maybe, just for once, this simple headline was correct.
Apparently:  “The factory itself is expected to create about 800 jobs initially, but about 9,000 more are expected to come from operations work, such as maintenance and supply activities” and that starts sounding a lot more plausible.
Manufacturing jobs are different to those in a supermarket. If a new store opens and employs 80 people then the only real implications outside the site will be that the group’s normal supply chain gets an new drop-off point to deal with. Perhaps an extra driver is taken on for a depot somewhere in the Midlands as they rejiggle runs to accommodate another two or three stores in a region – but that’s it. And most of the store’s wages never leave the building anyway, being  spent by staff  on their own groceries.
But manufacturing is something different altogether. Assuming that the new Hull facility won’t be just a final-stage assembly plant then there MIGHT be massive additional employment created locally. Someone will have to manufacture whatever packaging the factory needs to transport its products safely – perhaps locally. Someone, perhaps living locally, will have to deliver this. New harbour facilities are being built to handle the turbines, which will need to be operated by local people.  A lot of very, very expensive equipment will need to be installed and then maintained continuously by local people. And so on and so forth.
I guess I’m trying to argue that a working manufacturing plant matters a whole lot more in the local economy than any office block, no matter how full of productive desk-workers it may be, and media coverage should reflect this. Any company that employs 800 in manufacturing could very well create a demand for products and services that will REALLY provide employment for 10,000 people.
 I just hope any future press releases about ‘creating jobs’ will get a rather more quizzical reception from now on so that dubious employment boasts from people trying to sell something don’t get equal treatment with fantastic bits of news like this.
That’s it – rant over. I’ll get back in my box for now and be more vestry-relevant next week, I promise.
First published February 2011

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