By James Frith (@jamesfrith)

The UK formally begins leaving the EU today. It’s a gloomy prospect for many and a surprise revolution for many more. I’ve got mixed feelings though gloomy still has the edge, I think. I so hope history simply puts this as a gear shift for an internationalist Great Britain. I fear not.

Those who led the winning argument last year must face scrutiny for their claims whilst Labour holds the government to account. Red bus promises of £350 million a week extra for the NHS are just the start.

Let’s get ahead.

The Labour party has to make sure the price of Brexit is not paid for by ordinary working people. Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is right that our focus is on the economy. Good jobs for everyone living here. This starts with skills and has to consider the impact of immigration where people aren’t trained or given the opportunity to get the skills to compete.

Average wages are barely creeping above inflation at 1.8% (inflation is 1.6% Jan 2017) according to the Office for National Statistics whilst the cost of living hurtles above this.

Labour’s version of Britain post-Brexit, must learn the lessons of the recent past where our EU membership helped super-charge our economy but left far too many ordinary people behind in doing so. Those who enjoyed the best of the EU rarely saw or heard the worst bits. And those who were left out, voted out.

In 2006 I was working as a lead for Employment and Skills at Greater Manchester Chamber working across the region. Nationally and locally Labour did huge amounts with investment in skills and regeneration. The impact of immigration was a huge benefit to our local economy and did much to grow the businesses and employers serving our economic area. The problem was, we didn’t join the efforts and opportunities together with training in local colleges and appreciate the impact that migration had on the local wards of greater Manchester fighting to keep up with the rapid change afoot. One example is of a fabrications company (part of the now fondly referred to 4th industrial revolution) in north Manchester.

Spotted as a future proof business and grower, they were given incentives by the then Labour Government and Local Labour Councils to move to an area where their new, emerging jobs would be most in need for local people. But locally and nationally, we didn’t do enough to join up the skills and immigration policy. So the jobs continued to require a new source of EU skilled labour rather than being a way to regenerate the life opportunities of local people and those already living here.

Labour cannot be coy in admitting this. We spent the benefits of this economic boom, super charged by skilled economic labour from the EU, on historic levels of public sector investment which benefit all. And whilst the newly created Migration Advisory Committee in the Home Office at the time began its work to asses, and in some cases question, the impact of these population increase efforts to move fast or first in considering the opportunity to add the local unemployed in to this new demand for well skilled, well paid work.

This should be heeded by new city region mayors shortly responsible for ensuring skills and labour needs are joined up. Starting first, with challenges to the status quo where previous efforts have fallen short; joining services together or simply applying some clear sightedness to the deployment authorities that comes with the office.

The government’s shameful absence in its Brexit bill of protecting those EU citizens, for whom the UK is their home, with a right to stay amendment, as moved by Labour’s Harriet Harman must be among the first checks the Labour party applies to the Tory’s take on Brexit.


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