Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission asks what Canary Wharf can do for the unemployed

Graham Fisher, of Toynbee Hall chairs the discussion with business, trust and charitable fund managers

Graham Fisher, of Toynbee Hall chairs the discussion with business, trust and charitable fund managers

TOWER Hamlets’ Fairness Commission asked whether the borough was rich or poor during its second installment yesterday held yards from the sentries that guard access to the ivory towers of Canary Wharf.

Depending on where you looked it is both; with 48 per cent of children living in poverty on one side of the checkpoint and the majority of its £6billion economy on the other.

Focusing on poverty and income part two of the Commission, set-up by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets to tackle inequality in the area, looked at how the borough’s rich businesses could help its poor people.

How can they help residents to get an education, learn new skills, find a job and pay the bills?

Well it turns out quite a lot is being done already.

Although no total figures were given, businesses and charitable trust-funds give millions to the philanthropic equivalent of hedge fund managers who invest the money in training schemes, business classes and local non-profits who in-turn fund more training schemes, business classes and local non-profits.

In fact from what was said by speakers from New Philanthropy Capital, London Community Foundation, East London Business Alliance and Barclays Bank there must be an army of local workers fresh out of college groomed and ready to work.

However, while admirable, this does not address the needs of those, identified by the frontline workers earlier in the day, who have not studied at college, been trained in finance or worked in an office. In particular the medium to long-term unskilled and unemployed who need practical and accessible job opportunities that pay the living wage.

It also does not address the need for those jobs to be created in the first place.

When job creation was mentioned by a member of the audience, albeit a humble coffee shop that was needed in Poplar, the members of the panel looked surprised at the suggestion, embarrassed by their omission or dismissive of the idea. “We don’t really want to scatter what we do too much,” Tim Kiy of Barclays Bank mumbled, “people can come to us with a business plan in the normal way.”

The afternoon’s discussion had centred around the private sector stepping in and giving millions for training and support – where the state was not – with no expected return. Why not go straight to the solution and invest the money directly in job creation instead. What? Private money given to philanthropic fund managers to set-up local businesses to employ local people with no shareholders or owners expecting a return ? I can picture the confused look on capitalists’ faces as I type.

How it might work:

  1. The best business minds from the Wharf come up with labour-intensive ideas – as part of the volunteering they already do – such as repatriating manufacturing jobs that went overseas or setting up distribution centres that benefit from their proximity to the city.
  2. The council provides unused land it already owns at a nominal rate to build factories, warehouses and offices on.
  3. The contracted design and build company is required to take-on local apprentices and trainees to shadow its professional and skilled employees involved in the project.
  4. The fund managers oversee spending and accounts.
  5. The lowest paid get the London living wage with a maximum pay ratio of 5:1 between them and the bosses.
  6. The profits repay the original investment for further investment in the same.

Just to be clear, this idea is not something I have concocted out of thin utopian air. It is the obvious solution that satisfies the problems presented using the financial and human support that is already on offer (except step 2).

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