Three ways in which politicians display their ignorance of the workplace

Workplace bubbleThe recent Cabinet reshuffle in the UK Government won’t alter one fact; politicians simply don’t get it when it comes to technology, the workplace, the way people work and the needs of small businesses. Once you dismiss the paranoid idea that they DO get it but don’t care because they’re too busy looking out for The Man, you have to conclude that one of the big problems they have (this won’t go where you think) is that they don’t understand anything about technology and work, especially when it comes to emerging technology, the working lives of individuals, the needs and functions of small businesses and the fact the self-employed exist at all. These things exist outside the bubble. This is obviously a problem because they are implementing policies and making big, uninformed and anachronistic decisions about the things that shape every aspect of our lives, help to define us as people and determine how companies and individuals function. Here are just three examples.

1. Last month the think tank Policy Exchange published its Technology Manifesto which claimed that the public sector could save £24 billion a year by offering the population of the UK universal fast broadband, migrating all Government information and services to a digital platform and making valuable data such as Ordnance Survey maps freely available.

Think it will happen? A handful of politicians who do get tech also attended the event, one of whom Nadhim Zahawi is quoted on 3216_BroadbandZDNet as responding to the report by saying: “The internet and technology is shaping the way everyone interacts transacts and reacts and has been doing so for at least a decade… well, everyone, that is, except government.”

There is movement, of course, but it is painstakingly slow because the Government does not see it as a priority. Earlier this week the Federation of Small Businesses highlighted just how important fast broadband was to the economy and contrasted it with the Governments half-arsed attempts  to deliver it.

The Government is also dragging its own feet on the subject. The Cabinet Office claims that it ‘expects’ the 150 most used Government services to be digitised by 2018. The Government is also sticking to its claim that universal broadband will be available in the UK next year, but as the Policy Exchange Technology Manifesto points out, it seems vague on what this actually means, instead calling for it to ‘make a universal broadband service commitment, guaranteeing minimum speeds that rise relative to developments in technology and internet usage.’ Not only would this transform Government services, universal fast broadband is simply the single most important piece of infrastructure the UK could introduce.

2. Earlier in June the Office for National Statistics released figures which show that flexible working is at a record high in the UK. The headline figure from the ONS is that 14 percent of the UK workforce now either work at home full time or use home as a base. This represents a 1.3 million increase over the six years since the onset of the recession.

The Government is claiming this as a victory for the promotion of flexible working through legislation and as a sign of the enlightened approach of bosses in helping employees find a better work life balance. And they’re largely wrong.

In an interview in the Daily Mail, Employment Minister Jenny Willott said that: ‘Current workplace arrangements are old fashioned and rigid. Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees will drive a cultural shift where flexible working becomes the norm and is not just for the benefit of parents and carers.’

Do politicians believe this is still an accurate portrayal of work?

Do politicians believe this is still an accurate portrayal of work?

This is of course based on a supposition that people work in the style of Reggie Perrin (left) and can approach CJ to apply for flexible working as an alternative to turfing up at Sunshine Desserts office at 9.11am each day.

In fact, the uptake of homeworking is primarily driven by Britain’s rapidly expanding army of freelancers and micro-businesses. The recent increase in employment levels is almost entirely down to a huge surge in the numbers of people who are self-employed. In the last quarter of 2013 alone, the number of people identified as self-employed rose by a staggering 211,000 while the number of employees fell by 60,000. There are now nearly 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK. These people aren’t working from home as an alternative to going to work in an office for an employer. There is no office and there is no employer and so employment legislation is of no use or interest to them. They are doing what they do in spite of what the government is doing with regard to flexible working, not because of it.

3. There are lots of reasons to conclude that HS2 is a bad idea and one of the main ones is that it is not designed for the world of 2033, when it will be complete. This at least marks some progress on the original claim in the HS2 business case that nobody works on trains. This ludicrous idea was upheld for several years before it was finally discarded, but it marked HS2 out as a project that politicians and the rail industry were anxious to make happen regardless of how delusional the arguments were.

The shape of things to come. In 1975.

The shape of things to come. In 1975.

We are planning to land this train in the future based on an apparent belief that the world and its working culture will be largely the same as it is now. In fact a recent report from the IoD the coming impact of disruptive technology on the viability of HS2, arguing that ‘as anybody who made investments on the back of their belief in Betamax (right) will know, even the best laid business plans can fall down when disruptive technologies emerge.’

The report cites the example of disruptive transport technologies that will skew the assumptions behind HS2 including driverless vehicles and lift sharing websites such as BlaBlaCar which has proved such a hit in France that the chairman of French rail operator SNCF has identified it as one of the greatest threats to his business.