The UK's Unsung Heroes

By Johnson, Luke | Management Today, February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The UK's Unsung Heroes


Johnson, Luke, Management Today


Honourable mention is due to those who create jobs; my offer to fund the Blue Plaque scheme; what turns boarding-school boys into super tycoons?

A report has been produced for the Government recommending that honours should no longer be bestowed on business people for their professional achievements but only for their charitable efforts. Apparently, this line has been taken because some recipients of titles have not given enough back to the community.

This is a bad idea. I am all for philanthropy and volunteering, but if we want to cut our deficit and restore standards of living, we need to encourage more enterprise, investment and wealth-creation. By recognising only entrepreneurs and captains of industry who have given money and time to good causes, the problem is overlooked.

Perhaps the single biggest challenge we face is the scourge of unemployment. Those who create jobs in a community do more than virtually anyone else to make a positive difference. Taking someone off the dole saves benefit payments, generates national insurance contributions and income tax, and contributes towards a more productive society. Yet there is no official congratulation for this vital role. There are thousands of awards for everything under the sun but no proper celebration of those who provide work, which gives income and meaning to our lives.

There are awards for innovation, boldness, leadership and dozens of other achievements in the commercial sphere, but nothing to applaud those who do perhaps the most important thing. This matters now because many feted, high-growth firms actually generate few jobs. Digital firms often require little labour input, or subcontract most of their activities. Their owners might get rich, but these businesses are unlikely to address the difficulties of finding productive work for the hundreds of thousands on the dole.

I suppose this desire to ignore pure entrepreneurialism reflects the ambivalent attitude that the political classes have towards capitalism and private enterprise - even though these are the economic mechanisms by which the Whitehall elite enjoys comfortable lives. It is time to inaugurate annual prizes for job-creation. If anyone wants to initiate such a prize, I'd be happy to become a partner in the project.

The quango English Heritage is bleating about budget cuts, and seems to be using these as an excuse to stop funding the highly popular Blue Plaques that commemorate the homes of important historical figures who have lived in the capital and elsewhere.

I hereby offer to fund the scheme in full. Each plaque apparently costs pounds 965 and a mere 10 are erected every year. No doubt there are some modest administrative costs too, although why it takes three years to decide whether a plaque should be stuck up I have no idea.

I have always felt that they were a brilliant British invention and bring London to life like almost no other feature. One of my favourite sights in the city is the marvellous juxtaposition of adjacent plaques for Jimi Hendrix and George Frideric Handel - both immigrants and both musical geniuses who lived in neighbouring houses in Brook Street, Mayfair, 220 years apart. …

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