Leicester spike: How the Tories slashed workplace inspections

We heard from the BBC yesterday:

Asked if there was a link between employment practices in Leicester and the outbreak there, Mr Hancock described guidance for employers as “statutory guidance” backed up by fines. “There are clearly some problems that have been under the radar in Leicester that need action,” he told the BBC.

Neither Hancock nor the BBC thought to tell us how good the ‘radar’ is. How many health and safety workplace inspectors and inspections are there? In a 2016 report, Professor Steve Tombs of the Open University writes:

What we find here is in fact a virtual collapse of enforcement capacity. In some local authorities there are now no dedicated health and safety inspectors – even, for example, in a city the size of Liverpool where in
2010 there had been four such inspectors. In general, health and safety regulatory bodies are haemorrhaging staff, and particularly experienced staff. They are under pressure not to take enforcement action, are demoralised even while being aware that worker and public protection is at risk.

and:

[O]n the basis of 18 000 inspections per annum, the “average” workplace can now expect to be inspected just once every 50 years.

https://www.etui.org/sites/default/files/ez_import/Hesamag14_EN-27-29.pdf

Tombs report is presented as The degradation of labour inspection in the UK, but on examination seems to be only about England.

In 2014, the Jimmy Reid Foundation wrote:

This paper explores what is wrong with occupational health and safety in Scotland now, a subject reserved solely to Westminster, and the laws, policies and practices that could provide a better work environment in an independent Scotland in the future. Employers and workers, including
those most vulnerable workers not in trade unions, would benefit producing higher public health standards and increasing the prosperity of the country as a whole. If there is a No vote in the coming referendum, little or no evidence exists to indicate there will be any substantial halt to Great Britain’s decline of occupational health and safety (OHS) standards and enforcement run down by successive Westminster administrations over two decades.

http://reidfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/HealthandSafety-1.pdf

6 thoughts on “Leicester spike: How the Tories slashed workplace inspections

  1. If government wants good public services government has to pay for them. And, contrary to the neoliberal austerity agenda, there is no shortage of government money to do so if it wishes. Poor public services are a consequence of government choice not economic necessity.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. United Kingdom-London: Garments for biological or chemical protection

      2020/S 126-309296

      Contract award notice

      https://ted.europa.eu/udl?uri=TED:NOTICE:309296-2020:TEXT:EN:HTML&src=0

      The contract,worth over £18 million, went to Aventis. The contract was awarded on the basis of cost. The contract is for PPE, face masks for those working with people who have or are suspected of having covid19.

      Aventis was the sole bidder

      “Type of procedure
      Award of a contract without prior publication of a call for competition in the Official Journal of the European Union in the cases listed below
      Extreme urgency brought about by events unforeseeable for the contracting authority and in accordance with the strict conditions stated in the directive.”

      Aventis is an employment agency with net assets of £322.

      Is Grayling somewhere in the background or has he a cult following in procurement?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. David is, of course, correct, spending on public services is a political choice, and not spending on them is a bad economical choice.

    I don’t think any of us realise by how much and how many public services have been depleted – certainly in England – they have quietly been whittling them down for decades now. The NHS is the most prominent and obvious, of course – and note that the BBC never seems to sensationalise any of the horrific reports of poor care which comes about from underfunding in NHS England, as though people shouldn’t be expecting anything different, priming the public for the privatisation of the health services, meanwhile in Scotland we still have a fairly good functional NHS and the BBC makes out any minor slip to be the biggest tragedy because it is very firmly still in public hands, perhaps?

    The covid19 epidemic has brought to light how far public health services have been slashed in England – again that seems to have remained intact in Scotland – something we would not normally think about. Then there are legal services, England has had their legal aid practically removed, and they are closing courts at a phenomenal rate, as well as not maintaining the estate (buildings are falling apart and are filthy). Scotland still has legal aid, but I don’t know anything about courts (I believe some have closed?). Prisons, being widely privatised, are overcrowded and provide a very poor service in England (from lack of care, to not being able to deliver someone in costody to court), while in Scotland the service is being continually improved with only some overcrowding (new prison being built?) that has not not resulted in riots. Then there are the cuts to HMRC (this affects Scotland and England equally as it is reserved) – they don’t have the capacity or offices to collect taxes, inspect, audit – brought most starkly to light when we realised they couldn’t be used to help with financial mitigation during our epidemic…

    You know what, I started this as a list of all the public services that have resulted in a poorer quality of life (either for us or for the English) and how much it is covered up by the media – but there are so many, and likely much more on a regional level, I really don’t have time to list all the ones that just pop into my head even! What is the point in having government (Westminster) if it doesn’t actually do anything useful?

    Are you feeling revived John, or are you considering a day off?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It is untrue, or a lie, to say that the employment practices in Leicester were “under the radar”. The FT wrote about it in 2018. Is the FT too upmarket for the Cabinet?

    https://www.ft.com/content/e427327e-5892-11e8-b8b2-d6ceb45fa9d0

    “I bought two Boohoo dresses for £6 and £7 respectively; both turned out to have been made in Leicester…… Boohoo’s market value has more than doubled to about £2.3bn since listing on London’s Aim exchange in 2014.

    How is it possible to make cheap clothes in a country where the minimum wage for over-25s is £7.83 an hour?

    Part of Leicester’s garment industry has become detached from UK employment law, “a country within a country”, as one factory owner puts it, where “£5 an hour is considered the top wage”, even though that is illegal.”

    Churchill introduced the minimum wage to the UK when a Liberal. Neither the Labour or Conservatives did much to enforce the conditions of Wages Councils before they were abolished by the Conservatives and after Labour brought back a minimum wage. Under the Wages Councils an employer could expect a routine inspection of the wages paid once every 13 years. Now, there are few if any routine inspections. HMRC will, they say, deal with complaints of payment below the minimum.

    The power of Trade Unions has been weakened. The Health and safety Executive has had funding cut by 47%. As Steve Tombs says, “this is not a story about rules, regulation, nor red tape, nor about the demands of austerity.. It is a story of social inequality and avoidable business-generated, state-facilitated violence:that is, social murder.”

    “Under the radar”? Not likely. This is the final paragraph in the FT report. “Perhaps the strangest thing about this labour exploitation is that it is an open secret. Central government knows; local government knows; retailers know. “When I came to the UK and I discovered what was going on in Leicester, it was mind-blowing,” says Anders Kristiansen, who was chief executive of high-street retailer New Look from 2013 until September last year. “This is happening in front of your eyes and nobody’s doing anything?!” he remembers thinking. “How can society accept it — not even society, how can government accept it? It’s so sad, I’ve not spoken about it for a long time because it frustrated me so much.””

    Liked by 2 people

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