This week marks the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight. Hartlepool has been a Fairtrade Town since 2005, thanks to pioneers like my old friend Peter Spires and my new friend Martin Green of the Hartlepool Fairtrade Strategy Group.
Peter, whom I fondly remember for his gentle manner, love of photography and dedication to the Trade Union movement, as well as his being responsible for marrying most people in town as the registrar, was a true gentleman and pioneer of Fairtrade.
The movement aims to ensure that farmers and workers get a fair price for their products, whatever their country of origin. I know Martin has done a great job since Peter passed away and I applaud the work he does.
Talking about fairness for all, of the many voiceless people whom I’ve met since the election, especially people of working age or young people seeking meaningful employment and apprenticeships, I say this: I have noticed that there are too many young people desperate for work who are being exploited by some firms for cheap labour.
This is especially shocking given the fact that the apprenticeship levy, which all large businesses and organisations must pay, simply isn’t working and the investment in real apprenticeships isn’t happening.
The opportunity of re-growing our skills base is being lost because of short term greed and legislation that lacks teeth.
As for people of working age, those who have worked all their lives and through no fault of their own are out of work, employers like Liberty Steel know you are out there and know there is a ready-made skills base to tap into and have a recruitment policy to match.
It’s a pity others conveniently fish for cheap labour via agencies, and don’t give our own ready-to-go workers a chance in life and a fresh start.
Young people frequently get a raw deal and often get wrongfully blamed for many things, when in truth there is nothing much going for them.
Everything has been cut from under them. No youth clubs, no jobs, no incentives, no connect with the world of work as in the old days because the world of work no longer connects with them.
Our young people have been robbed from a start in life – the kind of start our own grandparents were well used to when jobs were transient and you could migrate from one place of work to another, when generations worked one after another in the same trade and when rip off schemes like YOT or David Cameron’s National Citizenship Service weren’t around to treat them like unpaid slave labour.
Young people deserve a better start in life and they are not stupid, which is why I favour lowering the voting age to 16.
It was simply unbelievable to meet Esther Rantzen at an NSPCC event last Monday about Young People’s mental health issues.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve known her to be a top TV personality and campaigner, but on this occasion her role as founder of ChildLine was put into stark reality when she spoke of the work her charity has done to help children in need.
Since its inception in 1986, ChildLine has helped over 300,000 young people get the counselling they need, dealt with over 22,400 young people with suicidal tendencies alone in 2016-17 and helped 4.5 million young people since merging with the NSPCC in 2005. Esther was a hero in my own youth and she is even more so now.
Finally, many congratulations to my old friend Joe Michna on achieving 30 years at the helm of the CAB in Hartlepool.
He and his team have made such a difference to so many lives, the plaudits are unquantifiable. Well done Joe. A fine man and decent human being.