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09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: 'Poster Day is a rainforest of research diversity' The University of Liverpool has one Graduate School for all disciplines. The School's annual Poster Day (27 March, in 2009) enables all these fields to be showcased together. I had the happy task with a few other 'external' judges of selecting the first-ever prizewinner for the new 'North West Hub' award, to emphasise links between academia and the wider world.

Education & Life-Long Learning and Knowledge Economy.

The exemplary aims of Poster Day are to offer graduate students practice in the skills required to communicate to a degree educated public, and to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about research being undertaken in other parts of the University.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: exhibiting in Mountford Hall

The University of Liverpool Graduate School Poster Day exhibition was fascinating; the cross-faculty range of work under one roof would surely have taken months to get fully to grips with, but we had just a couple of hours. I used the time to talk to some very interesting people, all passionate about their work and the reasons they were doing it.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 307 ~ Woolly Welfare? Reliably Counting Lame Sheep

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 270 ~ An Empirical Investigation of the Libyan Audit Market & No. 272 ~ Corporate Governance and Firm Value

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: No. 31 ~ Achaemenid Egypt: 130 years of Mystery

The involvement of 'external' visitors was a new step introduced this year. Here we see some of the Graduate School Team, including Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with my fellow judges:

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post-Graduate Poster Day: Dr Richard Hinchcliffe (Director of Postgraduate Training) with the Graduate School Team & Poster Day external judges (NW Hub)

But in the end we had to make a decision, spoilt for choice though we certainly were.

The general criteria for the North West Hub overall prize included visual impact, organisation of the material, the accessibility of and rationale for the research, and, last but not least, the enthusiasm and clarity of the researcher him or herself. It seems very fitting that the award was after much discussion made to Andrew Lee-Mortimer for his engineering research project around Design for Sustainability.

09.03.27 Liverpool University Post- Poster Day: No. 85 ~ Andrew Lee-Mortimer: Design for Sustainability (NW Hub prizewinner)

Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning and about the Knowledge Economy.

violin, amplifier & briefcase The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city - including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool's creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and 'non-arts' businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.

Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members' Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool's creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the "Liverpool Chamber" magazine:

We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.

It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.

Momentum unsecure?
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.

So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.

New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.

This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.

Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool.... and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.

A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.

Hilary Burrage
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee

A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of "Liverpool Chamber", the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

Woman executive red briefcase, pink notebook + accessories The current financial chaos is producing a lot of debate about regulation. On one hand we're told that very tight scrutiny, emboldened by severe legislation, is a must; whilst others say more 'good, moral people' from the City are the answer. Both positions have merit. But urgent action to widen the pool from which Board Directors is drawn is one essential and immediate option, insisting that many more women become directors of the most influential companies.

Few would deny that, as Andrew Phillips said recently in The Guardian, a 'welter of regulation' cannot in and of itself avoid further catastrophe for the Threadneedle Street and City of London and Wall Street.

Of course 'good, moral' people are a pre-requisite of effective reformation of the financial system; and of course this must include people of 'all talents'.

Diversity improves scrutiny
What Lord Phillips might also propose, however, is that none of this is likely to deliver unless the talents involved are those of a truly diverse lot, in background, ethnicity, gender and otherwise.

The best way to secure proper scrutiny is to ensure, however well meaning they might be, that decision-making groups are not also a collection of people with much, beyond the necessary skills and expertise, in common.

Diversity improves business performance too
We already know that diversity at the top makes for successful business. Group members of different sorts, from a variety of backgrounds, aren't an optional extra when it comes to effective group working. They're essential.

And the UK workplace equality legislation to deliver this - applicable as much in the boardroom as on the shopfloor - is already in place.

Read more about Business & Enterprise and about Gender & Women.

Science bottles & test tubes The Liverpool city region (Merseyside) looks on available evidence to have only about half the number of scientists which might be expected on the basis of the overall national statistics. So by what indicators might Merseyside measure progress in the retention and development of graduate scientists and technologists?

In 2008 the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University between them will, excluding medical doctors, produce more than 2000 new Science and IT graduates. There will also be nearly 500 post-graduates, including those, a considerable number of whom studied part-time for Master's degrees, in the field of information technology - which is noted as a strength on Merseyside.

Here indeed is potential in every respect. So why do Liverpool and Merseyside stay so near the bottom of the national economic stakes?

Who's economically active?
Just under half the UK population (i.e some 28 million people) is economically active, nearly a tenth of whom (2.67 million, in 2005) have a Science or Engineering HE qualification – which is about two fifths of all graduates; and some 88% of these are currently in employment.

But the Merseyside conurbation has a population of nearly 1.5 million. Of those of working age however, against a national average of 74.5%, about 68% (551,000) are in employment (62%, or 167,000 in Liverpool itself) .

Whilst it is very difficult to obtain accurate and up-to-date statistics on exactly how many scientists live and / or work in Merseyside, some approximations are possible. These suggest that numbers are significantly lower than they 'should' be, if the overall numbers of scientists and technologists were distributed evenly across the UK.

Approaching 30% of the UK newly adult population is now qualified to degree level (in any subject), whereas even after considerable recent improvement the figure on Merseyside is around 21% .

The Liverpool city region clearly needs to keep (or, better still for everyone over time, attract, and 'exchange' freely with other places) as many of our current annual output of 2,500 science graduates as possible.

Measuring retention, exchange and employment of graduates
How this can be done is, of course, a matter still under debate. But one sensible place to begin might be to set up a formal method of collating data about who, with a degree in what, stays on, comes to live and work in, or leaves the Liverpool city region. How else are we to measure progress or otherwise in our 21st century economy?

That these figures, for every stage in graduates' careers and lives, are not routinely available on a Liverpool city region basis, is an indicator of how far we have yet to travel in the knowledge economy stakes.

Useful statistics and references
BERR SET (Science, Engineering & Technology) Indicators 2005
City of Liverpool Key Statistics Bulletin August 2006
Office of National Statistics 2006
Knowledge Exchange Merseyside Graduate Labour Market Report
Merseyside Economic Review 2007

You are particularly invited to offer Comment below if you can tell us more about these statistics, in respect of Liverpool, Merseyside and / or the Manchester-Liverpool conurbation. Thank you.

Read more about Science, Regeneration & Sustainability
and The Future Of Liverpool.

Women's No Pay Day

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Women & shopping trolleys 3916a (89x111).jpg Today (30 October) is UNISON and the Fawcett Society's 'Women's No Pay Day' - i.e. the date in the U.K. year when, compared with men's average wage for a given job, women doing it cease to be paid. But there are many people, men and women alike, who are determined that things will change, and change much more quickly than to date.

This is what the Fawcett Society has to say about women's pay in the UK:

Facts on the inequality gaps
There has been a revolution in some aspects of women’s lives over the past 30 years.

And yet, social and economic justice remains a distant dream for women in the UK, which is why Fawcett's work is needed as much as ever.

Women working full-time are paid on average 17% less an hour than men (or 38% less if they work part-time)

Women make up less than 20% of MPs and ethnic minority women make up just 0.3% of MPs.

96% of executive directors of the UK's top 100 companies are men.

Sign the petition to Gordon Brown
As Fawcett says, it only takes a few seconds to support the Women's No Pay Day campaign. By signing a petition on the Number 10 website everyone who values equality can ask the Prime Minister to take stronger action on the pay gap .

Click here to sign the Equal Pay Petition to Gordon Brown, asking the Prime Minister to 'admit that current pay laws are not working and bring in stronger measures'.

Lewis'sStoreClosing Notice 2007.4 (small)90x134.jpg Liverpool city centre is in a state of flux, as the Big Dig re-routes and bewilders in equal measure. The aim is that the city centre will become a pleasant, business-friendly place to be. The disgraceful state of Renshaw Street, linking Lime Street Station to the city south end, sadly belies that intent. It's scruffy and delapidated; does it have to be like this?

Renshaw Street Liverpool from Lewis's to Lime Street  160x196.jpg Lewis'sStatue 160x81.jpg Liverpool Lime Street looking down Renshaw Street to Lewis's 160x209  2007.4.jpg

The steel-grey vistas above are what first greet visitors to Liverpool's city centre. The once-mighty Lewis's department store and the street from there to the main train station look much as some of us recall them thirty years ago, except perhaps they are less well scrubbed. And to add to this we now have the challenge of the City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS) 'in action' every time we come into town.

The Big Dig as a way of life
To those familiar with Liverpool's city centre the Big Dig has become a way of life. Intended to make the heart of Liverpool 'fit for purpose' for the celebratory years of 2007 and 2008, this now seemingly perennial feature of the city centre experience feels to have become a liability for Liverpool's citizens, rather then an opportunity to enhance our future.

Many are asking whether a city which has suffered so much digging of holes and diversion of traffic in all directions can actually survive as an economic entity until the works are finally completed. The word is that some local businesses are going to the wall, especially in the train station area around Liverpool Lime Street, RenshawStreet and the Adelphi Hotel (not, it seems, itself under duress).

Enterprise endangered
Certainly, there have already been casualties. Heart & Soul, Chumki Banerjee's signature bistro restaurant just around the corner on Mount Pleasant, has closed and Lewis's Ltd (quite a different retail company from John Lewis) is rumoured after many years - it was founded in 1856 - to be folding imminently (mid-May 2007). There are also suggestions that some other long-established local stores are at risk.

A relaxed approach to regeneration?
No-one denies that improvements to the city centre are required; but many question the apparently relaxed approach the City Council and others have taken to achieving this.

Work on the Big Dig seems at best to be nine-to-five, and nobody, as far as one can tell, has a responsibility actually to clean up the grimly grey and crumbling retail and commercial buildings along Renshaw Street from Lime Street.

Take a fresh look - and freshen up!
Is it surprising that businesses in this well-established part of town are feeling the pinch? Who would choose to walk from Lime Street up to Lewis's along a street resembling the set of a 1960s kitchen sink melodrama, when they can instead take the crossing outside the station into the pedestrian zone?

Perhaps some city leaders need to walk this walk, as well as talking the theoretical talk about the local infrastructural wonders we can soon expect.

Support the positive
There will always be brave souls who find a way forward. Fleur Hair and Beauty, previously located in the now-collapsing Lewis's department store, has taken a walk across the road to the Adelphi Hotel Health Club, where the business can re-consolidate. No doubt there are others too who have faced the future and re-grouped.

Things are never static, especially in the world of enterprise, and to some extent this is good. That, however, does not excuse the failure of city local leaders to address problems which are beyond the control of all but the very largest businesses.

Challenging market conditions
This is a city with more than the usual proportion of small and medium sized enterprises (compared to large ones - but still low in proportion to the public sector). These SMEs, often owned and run by individuals who actually live in Liverpool, have little slack in their business plans to accommodate civic laxity.

Not all businesses are equally effectively run, but Liverpool can't afford the luxury of just letting private sector interests go to the wall without any support.

Nurture the positives
As I have said before, Regeneration Rule No. 1 has to be:
First nurture the positive assets you already have.

It's not just the interests of visitors to our 2007 and 2008 celebrations that we must protect. The concerns of local workers and entrepreneurs are also core.

They, after all, are the people who hope still to be here in 2009.

FleurVaughan150x224.jpg Fleur Health & Beauty

Spindles Health Club
The Britannia Adelphi Hotel
Ranelagh Place (Renshaw Street)
Liverpool L3 5UL

0151-709 7200 x 044

And a happy PS: Fleur has now re-opened her salon in the 'rescued' Lewis's, to run alongside the Adelphi salon - Lewis's, Ranelagh Street, 0151-709 7000.

Graduation caps & heads (small) 70x144.jpg Graduate retention is a serious aspect of any decent policy for regeneration. But the emphasis on new / young graduates alone is strange, when there are always also other highly qualified and more experienced people who might offer at least as much in any developing economy.

A recurring theme in the regeneration of cities and regions is the emphasis on retention of graduates. This is an entirely reasonable focus, given the cost of producing graduates and the potential which they have in terms of economic value. The flight of bright graduates from regional to capital cities is a well-marked issue for most regional economies.

Reducing the loss of graduate talent is generally a task allocated to the regional universities which have educated them. There is a whole sector of most regional knowledge economies which is dedicated simply to training and retaining graduates in the hope that they will enhance the economic performance of that region.

Extending the scope for retention
There are also now schemes which train 'women returners', women who have taken time out to raise a family or who have only later in their working lives decided to develop their formal skills. Generally these schemes give good value for the 'returners' and their future employers, at least in terms of providing competent middle-level practitioners and professionals; and certainly they can make a really significant difference to the lives of the women who undertake the training.

Overlooked and under-used
But there is another group of people with high skills who are often simply not geared into their local and regional economy in any meaningful way. These are often older, highly qualified and experienced graduate women who are no longer working (but are usually not registered as unemployed), and who may remain living in an area because they have family or other personal commitments there.

These women generally do not need any further training (except in the same way that other practising professionals might need it) and they often undertake a good deal of voluntary and unpaid work in their communities. Little of this work however is given any formal economic value, and even less of it is focused strategically on the requirements of their economic location.

How could their activities be strategically focused, when these women, often for reasons beyond their individual control, may have almost no continuing professional connection in their communities?

Invisible people
In an economy with a significant proportion of women leaders and decision-makers the 'invisible' older female graduate might be identified as a person with serious economic potential, someone for whom every effort should be made to find or create suitable high-level employment or enterprise opportunities commensurate with her qualifications and experience.

Highly qualified men are likely, we might suppose, to move to a job elsewhere which meets their requirements; the women may have no choice but to relinquish their employment, if their family moves elsewhere or if circumstances mean their job disappears. In many challenged regional and local economies however the scope to realise this female potential remains unperceived by those (mostly men) who decide the strategy for their local economies.

Doing the audit
Has anyone tried to estimate the numbers of 'non-economically-productive' highly qualified older women in a given regional or local economy undergoing regeneration? Does anyone know what these women currently contribute informally to their economies, or what they could contribute formally in the right contexts?

Older women are often seemingly invisible. My guess, from many private encounters, discussions and observations over the past few years, is that here is an almost totally untapped resource.

Nurturing all available resources
Retention of young graduates is of course critical to economic renaissance; but so is the gearing in of the potential of older and more experienced graduates. This is another example of why economic regeneration strategists need to appreciate and nurture more carefully what they already have, as well as what they would like for the future to procure.

This article is also linked from the New Start magazine blog of 14 March 2007.

Women at market (small) 70x71.jpg Today (8 March) is International Women's Day, when women are celebrated in many parts of the world. But after more than a century of campaigning, women and men remain unequal in wealth and power. It's time for an overtly feminist, gendered approach to economics, examining the differential impacts and advantages of economic activity on women and men.

The campaign for 'women's rights' has been going for a very long time now.

One of the original texts about women's rights, The Subjection of Women, was written in1869 by the Scottish radical philosopher John Stuart Mill. That's almost a century and a half ago. And so very much more has been written, said and done about this issue since then.

The question is, therefore: despite worthy events such as International Women's Day, why is there still such a long way to go?

Convenient inertia
'Convenient' is probably too kind a word to describe the collective failure to see the negative experience of most women in regard to economics, employment, public life and business. Nonetheless, the word convenience points us in the right direction if we want to explain the stifling inertia many women experience in their quest simply for equality.

There are many fair-minded and decent men, but there are also large numbers who would rather see inequality and exploitation anywhere except on their own doorstep. And since men still have more power and influence than women, it's often their perspectives which have the most weight. 'Women's equality' may not be a taboo subject, but it is certainly a sidelined one.

There's always something more urgent and important to address...

Economic analysis
So let's start to approach this, seriously, another way. Let's look routinely and quite expressly at how women and men fare in the economy and the corridors of power.

In other words, let's have an Economics which uses gender as an analytical tool in the same way that other Social Science analysis does. Only once the unspoken taboo had been broken did social scientists begin to perceive the realities of gender impact, direct and indirect, on society itself.

Moves in the right direction
Big steps are being made, with the introduction of equality standards for all English local authorities.

As part of these standards, Gender Impact Assessments, required from April 2007, are to be the vehicle through which the Women and Equality Unit and the Department for Trade and Industry is bringing into sharp focus the issue of gender in relation to the Government's Public Service Reform.

Start them young
Government policy, excellent in intention though it may be, is one thing. Taking matters seriously in wider society, even if there are sanctions for not doing so, is sometimes another.

The next steps are to ensure that Business / Enterprise Studies and Economics embed gender differentials into their curriculum from the very start. This should be as much a part of the Economics (and other) GCSE curricula as it already is the Social Science one. Early on is the best place to start.

And at the other end of the scale corporates at every level should be required to give much more 'gendered' (and other diversity-linked) information in their annual reports. Business moves where its pocket takes it, and the bottom line here is exactly that, the visible bottom line. At a time of claimed skills shortages, becoming gender conscious is good for business, as well as good for people.

There are small initiatives such as the idea of the Conference Diversity Index, and also some much larger pointers to the future which thread through this train of thought.

In 2006 the London Business School launched the Lehman Brothers Business Centre for Women, with the intention of providing solutions for the challenges that businesses face in attracting and retaining talented women.

Signs of success
But alongside the urgent necessity to get more women to the very 'top' we need to ensure that most of them don't stay much nearer the bottom.

The costs of gender inequality impinge on us all. There are a few thinkers and scholars who have established a baseline here, but only when gender is a clearly articulated part of mainstream public consciousness, politics and business will we really be getting somewhere.

A shorter version of this article was published as a letter in The Guardian on 8 March 2007.

Study bookshelves (small) 90x111.jpg Not all academics are happy to see their students referred to as 'customers'. They have a point. The role of college lecturers is to ensure that their students gain the knowledge and skills required to take them further in their chosen fields. The 'student as customer' model is incomplete, if only because teaching staff inevitably know more about the chosen field than do learners. Along with the actual knowledge required, there may be scope to look afresh at the skills base students need - and at the implications of that for the 'consumer' status of students.

Edward Snyder, Dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, is vexed about the notion of students as 'customers'. In an article published by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, he writes:

'Do we really want to tell them [students] that they are customers - and that they are always right - when we [post-graduate tutors] are in the last, best position to influence their overall academic, ethical and professional development?'

An important question
Prof Snyder asks an important question here - and it applies at least as much to pre-university and undergraduate students as it does to his very high fliers.

I recall one particularly demanding group of college students (all groups, as any teacher will tell you, have their own signature character and dynamic) who informed me very early on in their course that they didn't want to 'do' a given part of the syllabus because it was 'boring'.

My riposte - that they were on an externally prescribed and examined course, so were going to have to get on with it, and they could tell me their views again when they had completed that part of the syllabus - left some of them genuinely puzzled. It had never occurred to them that choices and judgements are best made on the basis of direct experience, not just hearsay or even less. For optimum results, you can't just pick'n'mix college education as you might your Saturday grocery shopping.

An extra dimension
The student - tutor interaction can never just be that of customer - salesperson; though it might sometimes be described as client - professional (for instance, when the learning is by overt mutual consent very focused and directed).

Usually, however, the learner - teacher relationship should be that of collaborator - facilitator, within a context of guidance and the tutor's expertise in the field being studied. This should ideally include encouragement by that tutor of efforts by the students to collaborate with each other (and, if possible, with more experienced practitioners) to explore the wider meanings and skills which lie behind the subject in question.

Beyond that, there may also, by mutual consent, be a role for tutors as their students' professional mentor and / or coach.

The challenge
There is a challenge here. It is relatively easy to evaluate 'customer satisfaction' and to respond to what one learns as a provider from such evaluation.

It is more difficult to measure the impact and future value of collaboration and skills development. But that is what adult students often require, just as much as younger learners.

The question is, how is this complex interactional 'contract' best negotiated between students and teachers, at a time when we are all encouraged from a very early age to see ourselves just as customers, selecting at whim what we will or will not 'consume'?

Read more articles about Education & Life-Long Learning.

Small child (small) 70x61.jpg Pre-school childcare is generally regarded as expensive. Even with government financial support, it stretches many household budgets. But there are now many more childcare places than hitherto. More places and higher costs, properly handled, may together be a longer-term sign of better status for women in the labour market.

The cost of pre-school childcare, we are constantly reminded, is ‘spiralling’ – highest, as ever, in London, and lowest in the north-west of England. The Daycare Trust tells us that the average cost of a full-time nursery place for under-twos is now (as of January 2007) £152 a week in England, and £131 in Wales. With individual average earnings at £447 a week, this is a hefty chunk out of some household budgets.

Early years support
Few would deny, however, that the government is doing its best to provide quality care for pre-school children. Welcoming recent developments, Alison Garnham, joint Chief Executive of the Daycare Trust called on the Government, as well as other political parties, to deliver the Ten Year Childcare Strategy:

At long last we have a government that is committed to making progress in childcare facilities in this country. When New Labour came to power they faced major challenges in delivering high quality and affordable childcare to all families and we welcome wholeheartedly the improvements that have been made under the Ten Year Strategy.'

Big changes from the past
Long gone is the grim time when finding childcare was an individual (mother)'s nightmare, relying only on a hunch and perhaps a local health visitor – who probably didn't ‘approve’ of working mums - in the exhausting search for someone reliable to care for one’s children whilst the money to feed them was earned.

In 2007, Sure Start is metamorphosing into Children’s Centres, and the tax credit system – to the daily tune of more than £2m for almost 400,000 families - helps many parents, as do tax-relief childcare vouchers (now up to age 12); and three- and four-year olds are entitled to 12.5 hours of free nursery education a week. In London, there is also a Childcare Affordability Programme which subsidises the cost of childcare by up to £30 for eligible parents.

Direct costs are up
Nonetheless, parents in the UK pay about 70% of the costs of childcare, compared to an average of about 30% for other European parents. (Where, of course, childcare patterns are sometimes very different.) And costs have risen more quickly than inflation – almost 6% in 2006, against inflation of less than half this.

Alongside this, there are reports that affordable childcare is difficult to find in many areas.

Not all bad news
I have three takes on this situation:

There is the individual problem for parents who find it hard to fund good childcare; there is the opportunity for business-minded child carers at last to earn a decent living; and there is a shift in the labour market which, longer-term, may well serve everyone well.

Parents’ stretched budgets
First, I have every sympathy with parents who struggle to make ends meet and find the costs of ‘quality’ childcare so difficult. Raising young families is always a challenge and it is crucial that every possible support is given to parents in their efforts to do this responsibly and well.

It’s very important from every perspective that parents – including, but not only, single parents - and their children receive all the help which can be mustered by their communities, employers, and the government.

Childcare entrepreneurs
Second, this situation is by no means bad news for those entrepreneurs – almost all of them women – who see a childcare market opportunity and grasp it.

Childcare providers, at least in Britain, has traditionally been appallingly badly paid. It is about time that this changed. These days many people are concerned about the quality of what they eat. If there is now a public debate also about the quality of care for their children, this can only be to the good.

The market will rise to the opportunity; but, just as with quality food, provision may not always be cheap. (Though expense is not always the issue: sometimes it’s actually organising the right thing which is the problem. Neither home-grown food nor local, small-scale quality childcare need be so very expensive.)

The labour market
Finally, if I were a feminist economist (assuming such persons consciously exist), I would be pleased about the current scenario.

It is likely that most of those who are pushing for higher wages in response to childcare costs will be women. By the logic of the market this demand will have to be addressed and to some extent met.

And a corollary, given only finite amounts of available money, may well be a market shift towards more equality of income between women and men. If women demand more pay, male employees (or indeed their managers / shareholding employers) will have to give way to a degree at least – especially as women are increasingly vital to the workforce, now often taking the field in terms of qualifications (sometimes gained whilst their little ones are receiving childcare) and skills.

Courage in transition
It’s a long, hard struggle, this childcare – equality scenario. But things overall are already better than they were, and the likelihood is that more pressure, higher expectations and political will together really can make a difference.

The Government’s Every Child Matters programme can of course be improved as experience in ‘how to do it’ is gained in communities and by decision-makers. Potential for improvements in childcare is however a positive, never a negative. The Government must keep its nerve.

The debates about affordability and quality in early years provision are welcome signs that every child does indeed ‘matter’, and that, slowly, the economy is adjusting to recognise just that.

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