The recent meeting of the Birmingham Business Breakfast Club, held at the Botanical Gardens, was packed to hear what Lord Jones had to say on how the recession had effected his beloved West Midlands (in fact so popular was this event, the BBBC had stopped taking bookings well ahead of the date). And if you know Digby then you will know that he always has plenty to say; sometimes controversial, often colourful, but always entertaining.
The last time I heard him speak was last year at the 100 year anniversary celebration of the Territorial Army, just after he had left government. He certainly let rip into the governing party (which they richly deserved) and once again gave us an insight, via a story or two, as to what it is like for a business person to have to work alongside the civil service (which didn’t sound like a pleasant experience).
In November 2009, Digby’s main concerns were predominantly based around the skills shortage in the West Midlands – once the home of UK manufacturing. He was concerned that if these skills continue to be lost to the area then there is every chance that soon they will be lost forever and the West Midlands may never fully recover.
To emphasise the skills issue he quoted the statistics that one in four of the adult population in some parts of Birmingham were unable to read and write to the level expected by an 11 year old within the National curriculum. He pointed to the fact that if, as an adult, you can’t read and write, then it is highly unlikely that you will have books in your home. The result of this will be very little hope for your children’s literacy, and so the cycle will continue and repeat itself again and again. We have to break this cycle now, or pay the price in the future.
Lord Jones was very critical of the government’s normal routine of handing out more and more benefits to immigrants who come and live in the West Midlands, citing the old Chinese proverb that if you give a man a fish he will be fed for the day, but if you give him a fishing rod and teach him how to fish then he will be fed for life (again, the focus being on skills development, innovation, motivation etc).
He also had a very interesting ambition for the political landscape in the UK – more independent (and accountable) MPs, the electorate voting for who they want to lead the country rather than a political party (i.e. more in a US Presidential style), and the new leader appointing a cabinet of experts in each discipline. After all, you wouldn’t want someone without the correct qualifications and experience operating on your brain just because they had been voted in to be the brain surgeon, so why would you want a Chancellor of the Exchequer who had no finance background, or a Minister for Business who had only ever worked in the Civil Service? And he has a very good point.