June 24 2022

I CAN’T get a new NHS dentist for love nor money. I’ve got constituents telling me they can’t renew their passports, or pay HMRC, or get a driving test, or that you have to ring back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow to see the GP.  This is Backlog Britain, and it is letting West of England families down.

Couple this with lorry driver shortages and Brexit bureaucracy-related delays, especially when full UK border controls came into force at the end of January and there are a whole series of other problems grinding us down - getting an electrician, or frankly a full choice at the local supermarket. Chlorine shortages at swimming pools and even the great British classic of fish and chips is facing an uncertain future. 

Some of these problems were unforeseeable - let’s be fair - but others could have been avoided with some governmental horizon-scanning. After all, with an ageing workforce the lorry driver shortage has been on the cards for years. 

Given the environmental crisis we face and the need for rapid change, one thing I want to ensure is that we in the West do some green horizon-scanning and get ahead of the curve when it comes to jobs of the future. So I made that the focus of this year’s Jobs and Skills Summit which I run. Change is coming.

Soon, when you take your electric car to the garage, you’ll want to speak to a mechanic who’s been trained in up-to-date tech, not who can get a rusty petrol banger started. When the central heating is playing up, it won’t be a plumber you’ll need but a heat pump engineer. That future is coming very, very soon. It means training workers right now. 

So it was great to meet brilliant students from Chew Valley school, who are the first to be taking part in a new West of England Combined Authority-funded programme to encourage local youngsters to consider green jobs.

At round-tables I heard from union reps, talented tradespeople (including those working at Bristol’s Urbane Eco, who are retrofitting homes across the region) and South Gloucestershire engineers working on ‘cleantech’. I asked them about what encouraged them into their careers.

With a £20 million skills budget, it is so important for me to hear direct what skills training works, what needs improvement and to find out local people’s top tips to get more people enthused.

Opportunities abound for decent, well-paid and fulfilling jobs which will get Britain working again and are vital if we are to reach our very ambitious and necessary West of England net-zero targets. You can’t just scrape by on a wing and a prayer, whatever the PM thinks.

I’ve never been a “what will be, will be” person – I think the future is, very much, ours to see.