In which he gets grumpy about how we learned nothing from history…

Every now and again and with increasing frequency these days we get to hear a politician pontificate about a “crisis” of one form or another. Its usually a “crisis” that has been invented in a daily opinion-paper which has whipped up the general public into sufficient a fury to come to the attention of a politician and the one thing that politicians hate more than anything is the general public getting themselves furious about a topic for the furious general public do not generally vote for you again and you’re thrown off the parliamentary gravy train for good.

And yet when these “crisis” arise there is almost always a very simple solution, a tried and tested solution, a solution that we tried and succeeded in even during our own generation, we fixed this “crisis” once in our own lifetime and now we’ve forgotten how we fixed it once before and go looking for another solution.

Housing is one such modern “crisis” and we are being told that its down to a huge unplanned increase in population and a complete lack of property to live in, such an imbalance causes the available properties to become artificially inflated in price to the point where the very people who need the housing can’t afford to be housed anymore, its a bloody crisis for today.

We’ve been here before though, within my lifetime and I’m “only” 60, a very youthful 60 I may add, the sort of 60 year old that you’d point to in the street and say “Why he can’t be 60 surely ?”

In the 1940s and 50s with a world war won and returning heroes returning to a country crippled by war debt, financially bankrupt since the depression years of the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of bombed-out dwelling places and those that remained being often slum dwelling not fit for housing even farm animals, there was a “crisis”, a housing crisis, we had too many people wanting homes and rehoming and not enough real estate to fulfill the demand – starting to sound familiar yet ?

We fixed it – we fixed the “crisis” by investing public money into public housing, “social housing” as we’d call it now, “council housing” as it was called then, a phrase that has become a dirty phrase for who on earth wants to rent a council house for the rest of their days these days ?

Well, lots of people actually did want to rent a council house even within my generation and so the governments of the day (and I include both flavours of political party here, this was not a socialist innovation) set about investing in houses for rent, delegating responsibility for such to local councils, you rented from your local council and your local council held the responsibility for housing you and for maintaining the dwelling, never more would there be slums without adequate drainage and private landlords only interested in monetary gain in the unregulated private rental market.

And this continued for at least three decades under both flavours of government, when I joined the workforce in the building trade in 1974 the company I worked for had approximately 75% of their order book involved in council and housing association developments, either new build or refurbishment, money invested into slum clearance and provision of affordable rental dwellings was a major priority to fix the “housing crisis”, and it worked – in the 1950s and 60s over 900,000 council houses were built and 2.5 million people rehoused – THATS what you call “fixing a crisis”.

And it wasn’t just rental, the 1946 New Towns Act released tens of thousands of acres of land to build completely new towns, places that had never existed on a map before were suddenly developed by private builders who sold on the open market to those who wished to go down that route, planning restrictions relaxed and finance and tax advantages available to developers created a boom time in house building and by complete coincidence also created hundreds of thousands of jobs and more importantly apprenticeships – those 50 and 60 year old tradesmen, the skilled trades who build your house extensions or fix your wiring and plumbing, they were all apprentices during those “crisis fixing” years.

Its inexcusable that politicians, many of whom were also growing up during those “crisis fixing years” have forgotten or completely ignore how to fix the “crisis” either through incompetence or complete and avid addiction to a political dogma that says that governments aren’t there to solve public requirements by investing public money into public schemes even though thats actually what they ARE there for, we pay a lot of tax into the exchequer so that the politicians can fix things like this with OUR money.

Likewise there is a “crisis” in youth employment because no private company really wants to take on a youth with no idea of how work works, and no private company wants to take on a youth who will reduce their productivity per head because they haven’t been trained yet and the company certainly don’t want to be saddled with training costs, why would they ?

The trade that I went into, electrical contracting, had pretty much the same requirements for apprentices as many other trades, that is a private company would advertise every year for the next batch of trainees and they would join the company straight from school at 16 years of age. They would be signed on five year apprenticeship terms using contracts that were nationally agreed and formulated by National Training Bodies, in the electrical trade it was the IEE, Institute of Electrical Engineers, who controlled the training of apprentices and made sure that an apprentice in Aberdeen received exactly the same standard of training as one in Brighton – five years of training at regulated rates of pay (which the employer was legally bound to pay) plus at least one and a half days of college based education every week (which the employer was legally bound to pay), and surprisingly the trades acquiesced because it was a damn good system that worked, that produced qualified tradesmen and craftsmen at the end of five years who went into the workplace with five years of work experience and a qualification under their belt – it just worked and there was no need to change the system.

Its all there in recent history, the systems existed and the solutions worked and the people who administered the systems are probably still working today, its not like they’ve all died off and taken the knowledge with them – why do we have such an aversion to learning lessons from the past ?

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