Blair's trip to Texas
A lot of words are being devalued these days. One that has suffered greatly in the past year is “consult”. It used to describe the process of seeking advice or approval from others. What it has come to mean in recent British (and American) government usage is the process of telling others what you intend to do on a “take it or leave it” basis. Blair has refused to have a debate in the House of Commons on Iraq yet he is going to the United States tomorrow to discuss the options for military action against Saddam Hussein. At what point in the process of formulating policy on Iraq will Blair consult with Members of Parliament? Does he rule out the possibility that some MPs might actually have things to say that would be useful to him in his thinking about this difficult issue? Is wisdom only to be found among the special advisors in Downing Street?

Several MPs have suggested that today's special session of Parliament, called to pay tribute to the Queen Mother, should be extended to allow a debate to take place on Iraq and the even more urgent issue of the situation in Israel and Palestine. This seems an eminently sensible suggestion although Downing Street thinks otherwise. With all possible respect to the Queen Mother, and to those who wish to speak about her remarkable life, a war is raging in the Middle East which could have widespread consequences elsewhere. The Prime Minister is certain to discuss it in Texas with President Bush. If parliamentary democracy means anything any more he should find time to consult – in the true meaning of the world – with the people's elected representatives.


Culling call centres
One of the mysteries of the British economy is that although large scale job losses are frequently announced the unemployment rate continues to fall. Some people think the figures are being fixed but the frequently–heard explanation that the service industry has been growing while manufacturing declines is probably correct. However, there was news last week which suggests that one important part of the service industry – call centres – may be in decline itself. BT, which has104 centres throughout Britain is planning to cut more than half of them in the near future. The growth of call centres in the UK has been phenomenal: in 1997 there were 1'800 sites employing 144'000 people and by 2001 there were 3'300 sites employing 540'000.

Many of these call centres are located in areas which had high male unemployment following the closure of heavy industry – Yorkshire's former mining districts now have the largest concentration of call centres in the country, most of them employing women. A new threat to this form of employment is the relocation of call centres to India; British Airways, GE Captital, HSBC and Bupa are among the companies that have already done this and others are planning to follow. There are currently 6'000 call centres in India employing 12'000 staff whose salaries are 90 per cent lower than those of their counterparts in Europe.



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