Back To The Future With The New £1


So the new 12-sided £1 coin is about to hit our streets. Panic at Tesco’s (who haven’t been able to convert their trolleys in time) and a source of national pride in “the most secure coin in the world”.

If you are of a certain age (or older) it is a perfect occasion to recall the last time we had a dodecagonal (12 sided to you and me) coin,  the  beloved thr’penny bit,  last minted in  1970 and condemned  by decimalisation less than a year later to the recycling mills of pecuniary history.  Yes, three old pence was one victim as 12 old pennies to a shilling migrated to one shilling being 5 new pennies. Thrupence, as it was known, didn’t map across being more than 1 np (new penny) and less than 1 1/2 np. (Yes, children, we used to have ha’pennies until 1984)

There is an obvious temptation to use today as a springboard for comparison between now and then.  No doubt someone somewhere will say that the old thr’penny bit and new pound coin are worth about as much as each other. Perhaps we might contemplate how this rediscovery of dodecagonicalism is proof positive of a bright Brexited future. For me the emotional lure of a 12 side coin is hard wired into my childhood, and a grey rainy early spring afternoon in west London.

Pocket money was a new preoccupation to the seven year old me. Introduced a year before,  and topped up with an extra allowance for sweets on Saturdays,  it was empowering as only a young person  getting actually cold hard cash for the first time can be.  There was not much to spend it on, given the sums were modest even by the standards of the day. And not much to spend either. Six or seven pence a week could keep you well stocked in those chewy sweets, sold then at 8 for a penny.  It was probably four weeks before you could get that latest Matchbox model car you’d spied on the last trip to the shops.

But, shame to say, I got a kick out of seeing the seven big one penny coins stacked on my mantelpiece on pocket money day. Sometimes it was a tanner (six old pence, a nickel coin the size of a 5p piece) and a penny.  But my favourite was when it was two thr’penny bits and a penny.  Those coins felt somehow more real more solid than the pennies or tanners.  Yes, the former was worth more and silver.  The latter was old, heavy, and historic.  But the brass coloured twelve sided discs were definitely special. Different, Had special value.  Looked like what the “white heat of technology” should mean in practice.

I had decided I need an increase.  It was simple, really, my differential had been eroded.  My younger sister had come on to the pay scale, and was close to catching me up.  My status as the senior partner needed respect and recognition. (Ok – seniority based pay bargaining has fundamental gender discrimination issues, but in my defence, I’d have taken the same stance with a brother too. And I was 7.)

The negotiations were protracted. The employer (my parents) was resistant. And it wasn’t an ability to pay situation either. No, they just didn’t think I was worth it. Actually, that is deliberately misleading spin caused by years of exposure to modern media. The truth is that they thought I wouldn’t appreciate the extra dosh.  That I would be trying  to supplement  my confectionary intake,  or that  I would fritter it away  on  things they  didn’t approve of.

On reflection, this was a crazy stand-off.  What did they think me, as an almost wholly dependent 7 years old would do with two extra pennies a week?  I was hardly about to step on a plane to Las Vegas.

By a combination of persuasion and tenacity, and thanks to some much appreciated sibling support, I won the day.  7d would be increasing to 9d and consolidated – with no reduction in sweet money.  But there was one caveat and although I didn’t want to acknowledge, it was potentially onerous – to get the extra 2d I had to commit to ”save it for a rainy day.”

The first pocket money day of the new era arrived. There on the mantelpiece – two thr’penny bits and three pennies.  That crucial ingredient of any successful negotiation, fate – was with me that day: The heavens opened. I had indeed saved it for a rainy day, and that rainy day happened to be right now.  My little victory.

I’m looking forward to seeing and holding our new coin. But more for the memories it recalls than anything else. The change it represents is inevitable, but as we stare into the unknown it is worth remembering where we have come from, what values we have in common and why shared history is important.

Next time in Tales From My Childhood:  How My Father Taught Me Gambling Doesn’t Pay.

Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town


The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

Budget 17: Tax Is The Biggest Elephant In The Room

We just have to talk about tax.

For a brief moment it looked like we were going to cross the Rubicon into a sensible discussion.  Surrey County Council’s plan to put proposals for a 15% increase in council tax – in order to pay for social care – to a local referendum seemed to be a break-through moment.

But in one blink it was gone. The “blink” seemed to be central  government’s,  whose so-called “sweetheart deal” on extra funding has been revealed by clandestine recordings of a meeting of the council’s ruling Conservative group.

Once again a debate on tax was dragged back into the political never-never land.

Until yesterday, when the Chancellor’s decision to raise National Insurance contributions for the self-employed catapulted tax back into the spotlight.  Outrage has followed.

Howe dare such a dirty trick – allegedly breaking a manifesto commitment –   be played on our “wealth creators,” who because they are self-employed are particularly vulnerable.

This furore is over a modest increase – from 9% to eventually 11%, meaning on average £240 per annum extra, with exemptions for the lowest earners and still below the Class 2 (or employee) rate of 12%. 

All this points to the inability to have a sensible, rational reasoned debate on taxation as being the biggest elephant in a room full of these beasts.

In fact, you can’t move in the room for elephants on taxation. Huge great issues that dare not speak their name.

Desperate under-funding of adult social care is one. Endemic tax avoidance is another (not much from the Taxpayers’ Alliance  on this, strangely).   The inescapable fact that for some things there is no free-market solution (take your pick from the Armed Forces to a national high-speed broadband network). We just pretend that they are not there because the discussion would have to involve talking about tax.

The latest row is indeed both symptomatic and depressing. A large slew of tax avoidance activity surrounds so-called bogus self-employment.  As finance journalist Paul Lewis quipped “Set yourself up as a company and take dividends:  low tax and no NICs at all.”

And significant  workers in the  ever-expanding “gig”  economy,  are effectively told  to  be self-employed as a  condition of getting the irregular jobs  they do.

But the bottom line is that the government needs money to run public services and things that the private sector either can’t or doesn’t want to do.  That money comes predominantly from taxation in one form or another.  To have turned taxation into the most sacred of all sacred cows is an act of supreme folly and self-delusion. We cheat ourselves by not talking about tax or condemning those who do.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post



The APR* May Be Dead But Watch Out For What Follows

*Annual Performance Review. Photocredit:

Earlier this year, Accenture boss Pierre Nanterme announced with a flourish the death of annual performance reviews.  As I read his rationale I found myself nodding in agreement, but by the end I was more anxious than reassured.

From an employee and union perspective Performance Management is a big big deal – even more so in a deregulated labour market with increasing emphasis on basic pay and pay progression being linked to performance.

Put any ten union reps in a room and we will quickly  come up  with just about the same “top five”  of poor performance management  regimes – inappropriate target setting,  seeking constant improvements when the employee doesn’t have the means to achieve them,  “levelling” or a  lack of transparency/objectivity,  discriminatory  practices , and their use as means to manage our members out of employment.

We all will have had to face the sometimes awful, life-changing or, tragically, even life-ending, consequences of bad performance management.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is bad for our members but also for the employer who risks productivity and reputation by pursuing misplaced methods.

So when M Nanterme asserts that “the traditional annual review process does not justify the cost, effort or outcome…the process can actually demotivate the vey people that companies want to retain and develop, “ I want to read more.  (I also want to invite him to a Unions21 event to expand and debate this some more).

Reading on, it seems that M Nanterme may be one of those employers who can see things the same way as we do: “No longer will we rely on forced rankings and comparisons of employees… longer will we fill out time-consuming assessment forms that focus upon the past. It’s not what we need.”

So far, so reassuringly good.  But it is one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to solve it. And this is where I start getting nervy.

If our same ten reps standing in a room turned their attention to what a good performance management system would look like, I think it would be less likely that we would come up with the same visions. In an ideal world, would we have PM at all, still less determine anything to do with pay on the basis of it?

But recognising that we do not necessarily have all the answers doesn’t debar us from a critical review of the post-APR world.

“Our job as leaders is to create the right environment for the new [millennial] generation to flourish in their careers…..the focus is on the future and how through frequent, timely and individualised coaching decisions – people can improve their performance….” says M Nanterme.

Two immediate issues, don’t you think?:  What is the concept of a “career” in the future world of work?  And just how “frequent, timely and individualised” is the new way of working?

Fortunately, M  Nanterme gives us a further insight: “The change we are making at Accenture puts people at the center [sic]…our people are looking for real-time, on-demand conversations to define priorities and to get and to give feedback….This new approach is entirely digitally-enabled so that conversations can happen anywhere, anytime and on any device.  This is the new world all of us are operating in – with fluid feedback at the point of need.”

Well let’s just stop right there.  A “Martini” approach to performance review. How alluring. Rather like a Venus Fly Trap to an unfortunate insect. Where are the limits to and control on such an all-enveloping utterly invasive mode of assessment? Whose “need” are we talking about?  What means do employees have to ensure that the commitment their employer expects from them is reciprocated?

That is the real and pressing challenge in what M. Nanterme is championing. Every instinct points to anxiety – that the reality of such a scheme will be assessment on a granular scale, 24/7/365.  The savings from digitalising and automating this function will accrue to employers but not employees.  And further automation means that algorythms will present irresistible opportunities for further savings – only for the lack of control and responsiveness from managers that so many 21st century workers have complained about for years to increase still further.

From there it is but a short step to a dystopian “Black Mirror” future where life chances and experiences are predicated on measures you can neither see nor alter.

I warmly and genuinely invite Pierre and his colleagues at Accenture to tell us it isn’t so?


This post first appeared on the Unions21 website

IPSO’s Rebuke And The Sun’s Setting Standards

The so-called “Hijab-gate” row regarding the on-screen appearance of C4 newsreader Fatima Manji at the time of the Nice truck terror incident continues.

As Press Gazette has reported, press regulator IPSO has upheld a complaint that an article in The Sun (a member of IPSO) had inaccurately reported the numbers of refugees in Calais lying about their ages as part of an application to enter the UK. The newspaper was obliged to print a correction in print and on-line versions, and had failed to do the latter. Careless would be one, kind, description of this, er, oversight.

But twinned with this was a public criticism for IPSO Board Member Trevor Kavanagh – a senior Sun journalist – for criticising Ms Manji whilst she was pursuing a complaint against the Sun.

It’s worth citing the ruling on this from IPSO in full. After noting that Mr Kavanagh has no role in considering individual complaints, it said:

“IPSO is committed to ensuring that individuals who believe that they have been wronged by the press are able to seek proper redress without fear of retribution or victimisation. In this instance, public comments by an IPSO board member brought the strength of this commitment into question. This should not have happened.”

Mr Kavanagh has apologised and IPSO-sceptics Hacked Off has demanded his removal.  No surprises anywhere there.

But the Sun has form for being somewhat cavalier when it comes to the standards IPSO promote and that, through their membership, they have signed up to.  The ‘paper seemed to “declare war” on IPSO in a row over reports of the Queen’s position on Brexit. Its mealy-mouthed apology to Jeremy Corbyn  also attracted criticism.

So the question is fairly asked: How many “strikes” before you are “out” – out in this case meaning the involvement of IPSO’s still evolving Standards arm.

Hacked Off and others traduced the PCC and, I think, unfairly berate and under-rate IPSO.  On the plus side, there is now at least an acknowledgement and some focus on Standards issues. Last week saw new work on an arbitration scheme, a form of alternative dispute resolution that many thought would not be possible.  And IPSO Chairman Alan Moses has done wonders in securing finance from tight-pursed newspaper groups on a more ambitious scale than the PCC could achieve.

And yet it would be foolish and complacent to believe that this is sufficient. The phobic and often contradictory stance of many IPSO-supporting newspapers is frightening and cannot be conducive to a healthy, inclusive, confident, politics and society.  The New York Times “truth” campaign  in response to President Trump’s attitude to news media also talks to our experience in the UK.

That Mr Kavanagh was rebuked and called out for it  is right and important. The fact it happened on a Friday afternoon is unfortunate. The fact he can still sit on IPSO’s board rightly raises eyebrows.  But the real problem is that he and his Sun colleagues thought what they did was entirely ok.

Self-regulation depends on high levels of buy-in, self-awareness and self-restraint from those regulated. I need say no more.


Full disclosure: I was a Press Complaints Commissioner from 2008 to 2014