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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Microcosm of a post-industrial town

It was exactly 50 years ago I ran my first successful election campaign in what was then a shipbuilding town (in its heyday, the yards kept 10,000 souls employed - if and when, that is, there were enough orders) and still remember the scorn with which my remarks at one meeting - about education being the future core of work in the town - were greeted. 
In 1968 it was only those of us who kept an eye on the United States who had a glimmering of the world that lay ahead. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock may not have been published until 1970 and Daniels Bell’s The Coming of Post-industrial Society until 1973 – but Warren Bennis had written his “Coming Death of Post-Bureaucracy” in 1966

I’ve just looked at the latest employment statistics for this Scottish District which tell me that by far and away the largest source of employment in the area I was raised in - and represented politically for 22 years - is that of ……health!!! (and social work) - with a figure of….. 7,000 (no less than 23% of the total). 
Next, perhaps surprisingly, is the retail trade (at 4,500) – with education coming in at what I find is a surprisingly low figure of 2,500. I made that 1968 prediction in a room of what was then the town’s new Further Education College – clearly having a sense of what was to be the phenomenal (and global) rise of the further and higher education industry… 

Only 1750 people are still working in manufacturing industry……That’s 5.8% compared with about 70% in the 1950s. The town was selected by IBM as the location for an industrial plant which opened in 1954 to great ceremony; grew in its heyday to about 3000 employees – but now employs precisely zero!!! There is a fascinating video here which starts with that opening before suddenly cutting to the desolation on the site when it completely closed a few years ago
“Public administration” has its own separate category (basically the town hall and social security office) and also has a surprisingly low statistic of 1500 people – although there are 3500 jobs in another curious category of “administrative and support services. Significantly only two thirds of the 30,000 jobs are full-time......

I know that these days talk of “real jobs” and “dependency” is old hat – if not politically incorrect. But there is not a single job in the agricultural sector (the area used to have some farms) – and electricity, gas, water and sewage have only 90 workers.
This is simply not sustainable! The talk about “resilient towns” needs to get louder – particularly with the frightening picture which is emerging of the effects of automation…..


Tales of journeys around Britain have attracted readers since at least Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785). The 1980s and 1990s saw that interest grow – think Bill Brysen and Jonathan Raban (by boat) to which the most recent addition was JD Taylor’s superb tale of a bike tour – Island Story - whose political commentary takes us back to the writings of Cobbett’s Rural Rides. George Borrow and George Orwell…
Writers such as Owen Hatherley have added a new dimension which builds on the architectural writings of Ian Nairn. I am just waiting for his New Kind of Bleak – journeys through Urban Britain (2012) which does not, however, include Greenock  

Those interested in tracing the rise and fall of a typical Scottish town should have a look at - 
- this collection of photos of the town in the 1960s (by a Frenchman)
- the collections here of the municipal museum (art and photographic)
- a rather grainy black and white of the town in 1959 
- a collection of old photos here; and here
- a short video montage of the town in the 1960s  
- a drone view of the contemporary town 

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