Following on from yesterday’s guest post from Gill Frigerio I’ve got another one to offer from Chris Biggs of Liverpool Hope University. I’m really enjoying these guest posts as they are great for getting debate going in the sector. I’m always keen on people sending me guest posts, but it seems particularly important to let people’s voices get heard in the election. We’ve still got a couple of days until the election, so if anyone else would contribute a post, then just get in touch and send me something. So now over to Chris…
It was the 15th April 2009, when I became politically active. I was sitting in my flat streaming LFC TV watching the Hillsborough 20th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony. Andy Burnham was giving a speech, I think it was the first time a politician had the privilege, which raised my eyebrow, then for him to be a blue didn’t make things any better to be honest. The crowd interrupted his speech with chants of ‘Justice for the 96’, it was a very emotional experience, even sitting on my own, in my flat. That was the first time where I saw the power of the people actually make some difference to politics. Andy Burnham promised to go back to Gordon Brown and ask him to publish information about the day which exposed lies and proved vital to the justice campaign from the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Evidence to me, that the many can influence the few.
I have digressed already. A little history about me:
I was born in 1983, grew up in a working class town called Runcorn. It is a small town that along with Widnes forms the borough of Halton, and locally governed by Halton Borough council. In terms of geography, it is in the county of Cheshire but is also part of the Liverpool City Region. My MP is not for the Labour stronghold constituency of Halton but the constituency of Weaver Vale, which is a swing seat, kind of. Confused?
My career in careers: I started working for Greater Merseyside Connexions Partnership (now T/A Career Connect) in 2001 as a part-time Cyber Café Support Worker, on a SRB funded project which later was funded by ERDF. It was at the start of the Connexions era. A product of New Labour’s social inclusion strategy. There was a genuine buzz about the place, a mixture of traditional careers professionals from the old careers service, social workers, youth workers, teachers and cyber café support workers!
Everyone I met from the CEO to the delivery staff was excited to be working on the project and believed it added value to the lives of all young people. It was this enthusiasm and positivity which inspired me to gain a career in careers. We operated on a strategy of prevention, intervention and sustainability, around the dreaded NEET figures, the September Guarantee was a nightmare for me, a target which was so significant then but doesn’t really exist now with RPA (the raised participation age). We had staff in schools, some running projects in primary schools, alternative provision, 6th forms, colleges, youth centres, case loaded with NEET young people, linked to job centres, youth offending teams, children in care, care leaver advisers and disability specialists. We also ran funded projects like Positive Activities for Young People, Activity Agreement Pilot, and ESF projects. There was loads of projects with highly skilled and experienced staff who cared and did make a positive impact on the lives of young people.
Then, the global financial crisis and the politics of austerity. It was Labour who started austerity, the national Connexions service went and Local Authorities were given responsibility for its management and commissioning. We were part of an integrated youth support service which in theory was great, in practice, not that practical. There was more focus on vulnerable groups and NEET. To be fair, arguably the downfall of the service nationally was it was too targeted towards the NEET. But my argument is, we were targeted and achieved them. How can you judge a service for not achieving targets it wasn’t given?
In my area we had year on year reductions in budgets, the biggest cost to our budgets was staff, so for every Christmas it felt like I had a notice of redundancy for about 6 / 7 years on the trot. I have a job in HE now, but I bet those notices are still going on every year!
In 2009 our sector was wooed by the Tories and the all age careers service, I remember a speech by MP David Willetts in 2009 campaigning for an all age careers service, promising the earth. Some of my colleagues were made up with the announcement and were thinking a Tory government might actually be better for our service. I’m a red both in politics and football, my view was that you can’t trust a Tory! I would have loved to be wrong on that one. In 2010 the Lib-Dem / Conservative coalition government and later Conservative government introduced more cuts, LA funding for careers cut, responsibility put on schools but with no extra money for it, at a time when schools had cuts in other areas. The all age careers service turned into next steps advisers bashing out 80 CV’s a month. Read more on the record of the Conservative governments on careers.
I left to work in HE, where the student fees and the ‘marketisation of HE’ was in full force, now we have TEF, Graduate Outcomes, LEO, the Office for Students not being our friends, Access and Participation plans etc.
Politics: I joined Labour in 2009 (after the Burnham thing), campaigned to keep a Labour MP in Weaver Vale. We failed, a Conservative won in 2010, won in 2015, Weaver Vale was a Brexit supporting area in 2016 (I don’t want to talk about it). But in 2017 Weaver Vale was red again, with Mike Amesbury, who in a previous life worked for a Connexions Service. Winner! He is/was (not sure what the status is during an election) the Shadow Minister for Employment and I support him 100%.
I want to get back to the days where we invest in our young people, give them opportunities to learn, gain work experiences and be innovative. Where the delivery staff love their job and are able to achieve outcomes, like when I started my career journey. For me, I don’t think any party is offering to rebuild careers services to level that we need, but Labour are offering a lot more hope and policies which respect social justice than other parties. What is more, we have an ex-careers adviser who will become the Minister for Employment! I will vote Labour. But, I suppose you could say, I would say that.