Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Employment in the 21st century symposium 18 June 2019


It is a subject that politicians won't talk about, except for one party promising new jobs and another to trumpeting record employment. Reports talk about robots taking over, but what is the truth; what is the evidence? More to the point, what is to be done?

One hundred people from across all stages of education, local government and industry came to Lincoln Drill Hall to hear presentations by people (see below) immersed in the debate. I offer here my reflections on a very thought provoking day.

I begin with my prejudice, which is a fear that AI (artificial intelligence) will cost jobs. This was dismissed as the Luddite Fallacy, harking back to the fear of early 19th century millworkers to the coming of machinery.  I also began with a strong feeling that 'middle order' jobs have already been lost and replaced with poorly paid unskilled work with variable hours. I am reminded of the brilliant TV drama Years and Years. I am also still worried.

The first speaker offered much needed evidence by showing just which jobs are vulnerable to AI, and they are largely those middle order clerical jobs. (This struck a chord with me in relation to my own writing where I uncovered photographs of massive offices for clerical work in support of army supply in WW2.) 
There could be a lot of clerical jobs at risk, perhaps 30% of all current jobs could to be lost. On the positive side new jobs will be created, many as Robot minders, which surely begs another TV drama. Those undertaking the new jobs will need to be trained and certainly those set to lose jobs might see it as a challenge beyond them.  This is Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution this time with the focus on interconnectivity. A key issue to emerge from this process of job loss and job creation is the time lag between the two.

For me a fascinating insight came at the coffee break where I spoke to my old neighbour who works in a senior role in the care sector. We had both seen that care work was among the least likely to be replaced by AI. It is work that needs human empathy, however it is seriously undervalued. Later a questioner suggested that people without high aspirations could become 'hair dressers or care workers'. Without being dismissive of hair dressers, care work surely needs to be recognised as a profession and paid accordingly. It would be good if this debate could shed light on this.

What other jobs are 'safe'? Not artists, it would seem. AI can make perfect copies of great masters. I digress into some other of my own work pointing to JohnRuskin, (whose voice needs to be heard more generally in this debate - he was fearful of the impact of industrialisation on the wellbeing of workers), but who in this context, could, at the age of 21, copy the style of all the significant painters of his day but who only discovered 'true art' when he began to paint from nature. This gives a focus on what AI cannot do: General Intelligence, Value Judgements to name but two.

It isn't just AI and Robots, digital technology generally, not least digital printing, is making a big impact in improving the service offered to customers by Lincoln's biggest manufacturing employer, Siemens. This company has also seen huge benefit from empowering groups of employees and truly seeking their ideas: digital crowd sourcing. Nevertheless another key issue is the inevitable internal opposition to change.

All generations are different and of course none are understood by their parents. Generation Z, those aged between 8 and 23, are very different: they have no emery before 9/11; they have only lived in financially challenging times; they have only ever lived with digital technology; they are better informed, have strong opinions and feel empowered; they value tolerance and equality and reject being labelled. How will they fit in the changing work place? At Siemens they would be welcomed, but is it true of all employers? The voices we heard, can be heard in the form of a drama piece, Youthquake at Lincoln Drill Hall on October and on tour.

In looking at the economic changes that have taken place in the lifetime of Generation Z, significant are the decoupling of wages and productivity, the polarisation of the labour market with few highly paid, many low paid and a reducing number of medium paid jobs.

So, what is to be done, particularly in the context of Lincolnshire where geographical areas and differing groups of people have been untouched by general economic growth? Are there specific actions that can improve their lot? Incidentally there seems to be a correlation between these forgotten areas and those where people voted 'Leave' in 2016. A possible answer emerged in the thinking behind Inclusive Economics.

I look forward to follow up work from this day, for in truth this was but a start. We didn't begin to talk about job satisfaction, Universal Basic Income or the financial viability of careers in the arts.

Those speaking, introduced by University of Lincoln Vice-Chancellor, Mary Stuart, were Marc Hanheide, Professor of Intelligent Robotics & Interactive Systems University of Lincoln; Yuval Fertig, Economist at PwC; Neil Corner, Managing Director Siemens Lincoln; Toby Ealden, Artistic Director Zest Theatre; Dr Neil Lee, Associate Professor of Economic Geography, LSE. The event concluded with a panel of students questioned by Professor Libby John, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Lincoln and a reflection session with Liz Shutt, Director of Policy, University of Lincoln/Greater Lincolnshire LEP


Monday, 20 May 2019

Can we learn from history?

I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s carefully argued book, Team of Rivals, the book at inspired Barack Obama. It is about the incredibly complex and divided political landscape that surrounded the American Civil War. A hopelessly divided country.

One of the many things that struck me was the immense care the new Republican (anti-slavery) Party took in selecting the right leader in the person of Abraham Lincoln. There were four strong candidates, all with principles passionately held. Three of the candidates were far better known that Lincoln. Those making the choice were seasoned politicians who understood not only their parties(the Republicans were a joining together of smaller groups) but the electorate as a whole.

They chose Lincoln for his undoubted gifts but also because he would attract wide support.

Perhaps our Brexit riven country could take a lesson from this?


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Polarised debate

Team of Rivals is a fascinating book, dealing as it does, with the biographies of the four men who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.
So what?
The winner was Abraham Lincoln and the battle ground slavery.
Dories Kearns Goodwin traces the slavery debate with the Southern States fighting for their treasured way of life, the Northern States fighting for emancipation, not only on moral grounds but also to unleash the economic benefit of many more free Americans. In the middle politicians seek endless compromise designed to keep both sides happy, but ending up pleasing no one.
Does this ring a bell?
The debate is characterised by violent expression of feelings particularly from the South with deep longings to keep things how they used to be.
The arguments revolve round the will of the people, the astonishing power of the press and the inability of Congress to reflect this will and power in legislation that will command a majority.
I read on. It is a long book. The parallels with the Brexit debate are chilling.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Concentrated wealth as a major drag on national prosperity

The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is a drag on any economy. So said Adair Turner in his book, Debt. Such wealth is frequently saved in the form of nonproductive assets. In contrast, wealth more widely distributed is circulated within the economy to the benefit of most, if not quite, all.

Quite why I had seen this as a 21st century phenomenon, I don’t really know. It was the case in 19th century Britain, but many of those with wealth then invested it in industry which in turn created employment and, to a degree, distributed wealth. 

In her masterly book, the Team of Rivals, Doris Kearny Goodwin tells of the Southern states of America before the abolition of slavery. 

‘Slavery trapped a large portion of the Southern population, preventing upward mobility. Illiteracy rates were high, access to education difficult. While a small planter aristocracy grew rich from holdings in land and slaves, the static Southern economy did not support the creation of a sizeable middle class.’

In contrast of the Northern states, she sees a land ‘teaming with bustling, restless men and women who believed passionately in progress and equated it with growth and  change; the air was filled with the excitement of intellectual ferment and with schemes of entrepreneurs.’

I can’t help seeing a parallel with 21st century Britain, where we are told that employment is at an all time high but so much is part time and low paid, and that wealth is again concentrated in the hands of the few and invested in such as empty London penthouse apartments. Employment for middle earners is shrinking. This is before we look at the wider world and the plight of refugees.

Schools in poorer areas, for all the efforts of teachers, are not enabling upward mobility. Our public schools, great educational establishments though they are, are overwhelmingly the preserve of the wealthy whose children go on to Oxbridge and well paid jobs.

Are we so different economically from pre-civil war USA?

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Employment in the 21st Century

On 18 June 2019 Lincoln Drill Hall is hosting a one day symposium presented by the University of Lincoln to explore the nature of employment in the 21st century.
The numbers of people in employment are said to be at record levels, but how much of this is full time employment, how much is capable of providing a family's income and how much is fulfilling?
The arts sector is said to be a significant contributor to the British economy, but how much employment in the arts is full time and sufficiently income providing? Very few writers earn their living from writing.
Computers and robots are said to be ready to take on a great many jobs which used to the preserve of human beings. What impact will this have on employment, and on the distribution of national income?
These are some of the big questions which the symposium and the process that will follow will seek to explore.
Follow this link to find out more and to register your interest.


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Cherish city's artscape

I take the title of the introduction I wrote for this season's Hello Lincoln. I reproduce the article below, but I want first to set out just why our city's artscape is in need of being cherished.

It is about being a city which embraces excellence in all its forms and not just a city what was notable in the past.

In order to be a place of excellence, I believe a number of factors need to be present. Excellence in education, which we have in our universities and college; excellence in work and employment, which we have in Siemens, Lindum and James Dawson but also a host of very creative businesses; excellence in architecture and heritage, which we have in abundance. It also needs excellence in the provision of arts and culture. It is simply no good if people living here have to go elsewhere to ‘feed their souls’.

I have written elsewhere of Charlotte Bronte who only found her eyes opened to art in the then new National Gallery when she visited London. In Lincoln we are amazingly lucky because, unlike Charlotte Bronte, we don’t have to go to London to have the experience she had; we have it on our door step. The Usher Gallery is surely, in its own way, as beautiful a building as the National Gallery and its setting on the hill nestling below the cathedral surely knocks Trafalgar Square for six. It has in recent years welcomed exhibitions that would make cities many times our size green with envy. It speaks of a city that is significant.

We do of course need more that just that. Many of the people of this city live in some of the most deprived wards in the UK. It is vital that our provision of art and culture reaches as far as it can and is as accessible as it can be. At the Drill Hall, we are delighted to be working in partnership with the YMCA to bring the experience of theatre to young people living in their part of the city and also to be working with the Mansions of the Future project to make art accessible in the very centre of Lincoln.

The Usher has the potential to be a massive force for good. It has been neglected and does need investment to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. The building is one with its collection, and this is important. It was built for the purpose for which it is still used and is a necessary complement to the art on display. It can speak loud and clear to the Lincoln community and to our many visitors.

The reference to visitors is important. We will soon have two wonderful heritage sites and visitors, I am sure, will come in their thousands. However, once they have visited the cathedral and castle, what next? To my mind, it is vital to have strong cultural offering to encourage those vital repeat visits.  I would argue that high quality public performance is part of this, but also the opportunity to experience great visual art in the place built to show it.

Both the Drill Hall and the Usher have a further vital role to play. They need to be places where today’s and indeed tomorrow’s artists can work. In today’s world, art cannot be something that is just ‘consumed’; there is a hunger to participate. Both places are ideally suited to this.





Saturday, 16 March 2019

What kind of a City is Lincoln?

It is a question I have asked before but in a different context; this time it is much more about whether we are a city that looks back, or one that looks now? Let me explain.

Millions of pounds have been spent at the castle, and indeed are being spent at the cathedral, to enable visitors and, of course, local residents to see what Lincoln was. All this is done in a very engaging and expert way, and that is wonderful. But is that all, and should it be all? What about the creative people of today? More to the point, what about you and me - now?

We all get on with our day to day lives, and much is far from easy. We need, from time to time, to be taken out of ourselves to experience something totally different. Here I declare my hand, I am chair of trustees at the Lincoln Arts Trust which cares for and runs Lincoln Drill Hall. So I would suggest that it is a pretty good thing to go to the Panto and have good laugh. I know, from talking to audience members, that the experience of a performance of Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera truly lifts the spirits. It may be music; it may be comedy or theatre; it depends what is your particular cup of tea.

It is more that just live performance; it is the other ways artists speak to us. The work going on at Mansions of the Future is reaching many more people than some existing venues and that is good, but those other places can too.

As I have written elsewhere, I have come to the world of arts and culture quite late in life. I still remember the thrill of seeing paintings in an art gallery and, rather than shuffling round bored and embarrassed, having someone open my eyes to what I am seeing. I am currently writing about Charlotte Bronte, the author Jane Eyre, and have found in her letters that the same was true for her; she had her eyes opened when she visited London and the then new National Gallery.

In Lincoln we are amazingly lucky because, unlike Charlotte Bronte, we don’t have to go to London to have the experience she had; we have it on our door step. The Usher Gallery is surely in its own way as beautiful a building as the National Gallery, and its setting on the hill nestling below the cathedral surely knocks Trafalgar Square for six. It has in recent years welcomed exhibitions that would make cities many times our size green with envy.

More than this, Lincoln as city is radically different to the one I first worked in only twenty years ago. Its biggest population group by far is 18 to 25. These are young people at an incredibly important time in their lives. They already have world class universities and colleges; for their nourishment, they need access to great performance and truly engaging art. The same is true of you and me, and tragically we are at risk of losing both, for ever.

The Drill Hall is at risk of closure, which is why we are running our Buy a Brick campaign. The Usher Gallery too is as risk of ceasing to be an art gallery at all and the County Council are consulting all of us for our opinion.

With both, the question is the same: do we want to live in a city where we have on our doorstep excellent live performance and a gallery that can welcome world class art? Both need to be accessible and I know that more work is needed to achieve this. 

But, what do you think?
My article in the Lincolnshire Echo of 14 March 2019