An extraordinary piece yesterday from Jeff Randall in which he attacks an alliance of doom-mongers for talking down the country and predicting economic collapse. The Armageddon Alliance, he says, has turned attacking the government into an industry:
Critics compete to paint an ever darker picture of Britain’s future: an economy without soul, a wasteland for cockroaches and tax-dodgers. The message is pure Dad’s Army: “We’re all doomed!”
What kind of person would take such delight in running Britain down and predicting catastrophe?
The sort of person who told us, only three years ago, that Britain was “falling apart” perhaps? Jeff, it seems, can do doom-mongering just as well as anyone but, of course, that piece was written when he didn’t like the government. Now his lot are in power, clearly only fools or knaves would do something so unpatriotic as point out some of the flaws in the government’s plan.
So outraged is he at anyone questioning whether things might be anything other than hunky-dory that he included the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the Armageddon Alliance.
Yep, according to Jeff they are part of this vast left-wing conspiracy. Why? Well for predicting that public sector job losses would be huge and suggesting that the rise in self-employment might not be all that much of a good thing. Legitimate concerns, you might think, for an organisation whose members do much of the country’s hiring and firing. Not for Jeff though. This makes the CIPD a “peddler of gloom”.
The CIPD’s former chief economist John Philpott was quick to respond. You may remember that he has been ridiculed by a conservative ranter once before, only for his job-loss predictions to be quietly adopted by the Office for Budget Responsibility a year or so later. (See previous post.) Anyone who has met John will not be surprised that his response is cool and measured. His final paragraphs are particularly interesting.
Having looked in detail at the rise in self-employment between 2008 and 2011, my CIPD report concluded that this was accounted for by individuals with characteristics very unlike the bulk of self-employed people. The latter tend either to be skilled professional consultants or trades people of the ‘white van man’ variety, in both cases working long hours. The ‘new self-employed’ by contrast are often unskilled and work hardly any hours at all – hence the ‘odd jobber’ tag.
Although the recent jobs market data have taken many people, myself included, by surprise, on closer examination the picture they paint is one consistent with an economy that is seriously short of demand rather than, as the tenor of Mr Randall’s article suggests, on the up. ‘Part-time/odd job/pay squeezed’ Britain might well be preferable to the kind of ‘doleful Britain’ seen in earlier decades but it is just as much a sign of ongoing economic malaise. And those of us who wish to point this out rather than act as cheerleaders for a flawed fiscal policy don’t deserve to be called ‘pedlars of gloom’.
Jeff Randall claims that the record number of self-employed people is a sign of “Britain’s journey towards self-reliance.” If he’d bothered to read the CIPD report, or indeed, any of the other data on self employment, he’d know that it is more likely to be a sign of Britain’s journey towards being a poorer and weaker economy.
It is true that the overall employment data has held up pretty well but I wonder how long it can last. We have more public spending cuts to come, which means more job losses. There are only so many people who can set themselves up as freelancers. Many of those who have done so recently will struggle.
A lot of people discover the hard way that they are not very good at being self-employed. The trouble is, it often takes them a while to do so. They make enough money to keep going and think everything is fine until they realise they have to cough up some of that money in tax. They then have to work out how much; something their employers used to do for them. Even people who planned their move into self-employment find it tough – not so much in the first year but in the second and third.
Many of the newly self-employed will struggle over the coming years. Some will go back to employment but with employers cutting more jobs, they will find it difficult. Unless the private sector creates jobs to soak these people up, many of them will throw in the towel and sign on. You don’t have to be part of the ‘Armageddon Alliance’ to see that.
Update: For more on this and a round-up of reactions see Michael Carty.