The gig economy is nothing new. Before the Dock Labour Scheme of 1967, there was widespread use of casual labour in ports like Liverpool. Dockers depended on a tap on the shoulder to get work. The rise of the unions in the sixties and seventies forced back irresponsible bosses but the predatory instincts of capitalism are always waiting in the wings and have returned now with the gig economy.

Now before you fear I’ve been spending too much time with Shadow Chancellor and avowed Marxist John McDonnell, I should say that I believe private enterprise should flourish and make profits. Owners are entitled to benefit from their bright ideas and risk taking in setting up businesses and shareholders should get a return on their investment. But workers are also entitled to fair wages and secure employment if they want it.

A report was published this week by the former aide to Tony Blair, Matthew Taylor, which could have major implications for business, employees and “dependent contractors”. The last category is one we are going to have to get used to. It is the new name created by Taylor to describe the current position that former dockers found themselves in as they waited anxiously for a few hours work on the dockside.

Nowadays the demand of society is not for casually employed dock workers but for taxi drivers and delivery services. Digital technology has made it possible for people to gain casual employment by identifying a need on line. Many people want work that fits around their lives not employers. Rebecca Long -Bailey and the Labour Party need to recognise this before embarking on a crusade on behalf of workers who, when they look round, may not be behind them. She’s the Salford MP who is also shadow Business Secretary and says using Uber taxis is “morally unacceptable”. I prefer black cabs but I recognise that not everyone employed in the “gig” economy is trapped there by a ruthless employer.

Some are and that is why Taylor is right to call for good work for all with a baseline of rights and a ladder of progress. There is a need to distinguish between the genuinely self-employed and “dependent contractors”. Self-employed pay lower taxes in recognition that they don’t get pension and sick benefits. (There is no sign the government are going to look again at raising their National Insurance contributions). Meanwhile Taylor identifies “dependent contractors” as people working for employers who rely on zero hours, short hours or agency contracts when they should be planning their employment needs better. These workers should receive sick pay and holidays.

The reform would end the confusion which allows firms like Deliveroo to claim their workers are self-employed when in fact it is difficult for them to turn down work.

Over a million people are employed in the “gig” economy and they have contributed to keeping the employment figures healthy while we are in danger of heading into a Brexit economic downturn.

Whether the government will implement the Taylor Report is doubtful. The Prime Minister says she would need opposition support and Labour is already saying it doesn’t go far enough.

I promised to report on my lunch with Vince Cable. I didn’t make it due to a three hour delay on the West Coast mainline. Bring on HS2

Follow me @JimHancockUK




The Tory conference hall in Birmingham was a place to go for a snooze (except when The Blonde Mop was speaking). But on the fringe there was plenty going on affecting every business in the North West.


Despite the BAE/EADS merger collapsing and the West Coast rail franchise descending into back biting and law suits, there was still a determination for the region to defy the recession with infrastructure projects.


There were lively fringe meetings put on by Atlantic Gateway, United Utilities and BAE, all stressing that they wanted to help the government grow its way out of the recession. Liverpool 2 Port Terminal had a prime location for its stand and there was news that HS2 is to be speeded up with plans for its route into the North West being published in the next few months.




The BAE/EADS merger drama was unfolding as the Tory conference was getting under way. The Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond were in Birmingham rather than in their normal power centres in Whitehall. On Monday night BAE hosted a long arranged fringe meeting and had to listen to Tory MPs and MEPs claiming BAE were about to be crushed between French and German interests if the merger went ahead. The BAE representative told us the proposed merger was “an opportunity not a necessity”.


By Tuesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s representative had called David Cameron in his hotel suite in Birmingham to indicate her wholesale objection to the deal.


This left North West Tories from Lancashire and Cumbria at the conference worried about the future of BAE. There was widespread criticism of the company’s senior managers who had been on the back foot since a leak had forced them to reveal a half-cooked agreement. Once the plans had been revealed BAE should have gone on the offensive selling the merits of a defence-civilian plane business link up. Instead they spent weeks on the defensive as criticism of the merger mounted.


Now the workforce at Warton,Salmesbury and Barrow are worried about the future for BAE in a world where defence orders are shrinking. Unions have attacked what they claim is a lack of a defence strategy by the British government.




If defence jobs are under threat in the northern part of our region, perhaps we need to look south to the arc of development potential stretching from Manchester Airport along the banks of the Mersey to Liverpool.


Atlantic Gateway held a fringe meeting in Birmingham to get over the message that 250,000 new jobs could be created from £14 bn of investment in everything from the Northern rail hub, Daresbury Science Park, the new Mersey bridge and the Liverpool/Wirral Waters project. Added to this the area has three enterprise zones and the Liverpool 2 Port Terminal which aims to attract freight that currently comes through Southampton and Felixstowe with ultimate destinations in the North.


Dennis Bate of Bovis LendLease said the Atlantic Gateway was just the sort of big scale project that wealth funds were looking to invest in. He told representatives that the era of looking to government for big money was over.


The meeting was going well until the new leader of Cheshire East Council Michael Jones cast doubt on Manchester and Liverpool’s commitment to Atlantic Gateway. It is true that in the past Manchester Council’s Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein has been less than enthusiastic about the concept but everyone agreed that unity was essential in backing big scale investment to counter the over heated London economy. How else can we compete with the capital which has at its head a man who dominated the conference?




That is apparently what David Cameron called Boris Johnson just before the latter he descended like a whirlwind on the conference.


Just as I wasn’t carried away by the media euphoria that surrounded Ed Miliband last week, nor was I impressed with the Prime Ministerial credentials of Boris. I rarely queue to get into meetings these days, but I did for Boris because he is interesting and entertaining. But is he really equipped for the hard grind of decision making that the office of Prime Minister requires? David Cameron’s speech had few jokes but he’s taking the tough decisions.


The truth is Boris beat a tired Ken Livingstone in the Mayoral election. He was a great cheerleader for the Olympics but, as he himself acknowledged, the success was down to excellent teams in the Olympic organising bodies.

A BBC poll of conference delegates yielded quite a close result when they were asked who their next leader should be. 60% said Boris 40% backed anyone else. The latter is quite a high figure and suggests that the Conservative Party is not wholly caught up in the Boris mania.





What a start to the Tory conference! A £40 million bill for the taxpayer over the bungled West Coast rail franchise process.


The government’s reputation was badly damaged by the budget u turns on things like the pasty tax. Now having asserted that the rail franchise process had been properly carried out, we find out that serious mistakes were made. Civil servants screwed up but the government’s assurances puts ministers in the frame too.


When administrations get a reputation for incompetence, it is very difficult to win back the trust of the voters. Tories won’t need reminding about the events of twenty years ago when Chancellor Norman Lamont had to exit the Exchange Rate Mechanism.


What makes the West Coast rail shambles so damaging is that news of it was announced by the government around midnight on the day that Labour leader Ed Miliband had made his acclaimed keynote speech at the Labour conference in Manchester. It included a devastating attack on what he called an incompetent, hopeless shower of a government. Then, hey presto, along comes the rail franchise train crash.


It was already going to be a difficult conference for the Conservatives. The Tory Right are almost in open revolt against David Cameron. He failed to deliver full victory in 2010 and right wing backbenchers are suspicious that the Prime Minister is using his Lib Dem Coalition partners as an excuse for not delivering proper Conservative policies.


Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne need to calm representatives in Birmingham who only see continued economic recession and probable election defeat as they look towards 2013. The county council elections next year are important for the Tories. The shires are their territory, but for how long? An ex North West Tory MP told me this week that he was certain Labour will take Lancashire next May.




The Labour conference in Manchester went off smoothly but that didn’t mean that all was sweetness and light among the comrades.


Blackburn MP Jack Straw’s memoires have not gone down well with the rank and file. Many I spoke to questioned what was the point of Jack rubbishing the reputation of the long dead John Smith. He lead the party briefly in the early 1990’s before his sudden sad death. What did we gain by learning from Jack Straw that he liked a drink?


Straw reveals how he was encouraged to challenge Gordon Brown when it became clear that the party was heading for defeat under his leadership. However he lacked the courage to do it and joins a number of other Labour figures who also allowed the unopposed coronation of Brown in 2007 when Tony Blair retired.


Straw has been a brilliant MP for Blackburn. He is very proud of his constituency and the word in Manchester was that he intends to fight again in 2015. If that happens a question arises over the future of his son Will Straw. An up and coming figure in the party, it has been suggested to me that Will might contest the neighbouring Tory held seat of Rossendale and Darwen. It would be interesting if he won because relations between the communities of Blackburn and Darwen are, to put it politely, “interesting”.


Whilst we are on the subject of Labour candidates in Lancashire, how about Alistair Campbell for Burnley?

From remarks he made in Manchester he clearly fancies becoming an MP. His passion for Burnley football club is well known and the Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwhistle is bound to be vulnerable in 2015.


My final thoughts on Labour’s conference in Manchester must focus on Ed Miliband. It was a good speech but I still think there is a certain awkwardness in his presentation style.


After two years though he has developed the confidence to make the final break with Tony Blair’s New Labour. He said it was too silent about those with responsibilities at the top and too timid about the accountability of those with power.


He’s right about that but New Labour did deliver three election victories.


Follow me at www.jimhancock.co.uk