John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for June, 2018

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In a world of digital nomads, we will all be made homeless | John Harris

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Whose utopia is this, when people have to sever emotional links and leave where they grew up to find dependable work?

The office-space empire WeWork was founded eight years ago in New York. It currently leases 240,000 sq metres of real estate in London alone, which reportedly makes it the city’s largest user of offices after the British government. The basic deal is simple enough: you can either pay to put your laptop wherever there is space, or stump up a little more for a more dependable desk or entire office – and, in either case, take advantage of the fact that, with operations in 20 countries, WeWork offers the chance to traverse the planet and temporarily set up shop in no end of locations.

Part of the WeWork idea, moreover, is that a place to toil is only part of what is on offer. As well as your workspace, there will be free beer on tap, regular yoga and pilates sessions, and more. As the working day winds on and such distractions – along with the necessity of meeting other footloose hotshots, and comparing “projects” – take up more of your time, a couple of questions might spring to mind: what is work, and what is leisure? And does the distinction even count for much any more?

Related: Tech leaders say visa cap removal may not solve UK skills shortage

Related: Wandering stars: are Tallinn’s digital nomads building the city of the future?

Related: What’s fuelling Athens’ burgeoning startup scene?

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Nationalisation isn’t enough. For better transport, you’ve got to go local | John Harris

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Behind the Northern Rail crisis is a system that’s staggeringly overcentralised. Power to change transport must be devolved

What a very British disgrace it all is. After endless delays, strikes and ticket-price hikes, as the latest crisis on the railways grinds on, the outgoing chief executive of Network Rail is made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, whatever that is. The secretary of state for transport faces calls for his resignation, but grimly stays put. And every day, the ongoing saga of Northern trains highlights not just the daily pain inflicted on thousands of travellers in the north-west and beyond, but the awful state of this country’s public transport.

To recap: new timetables were meant to be introduced as part of a big drive to improve services. But, as with Govia Thameslink in the south-east, Northern – a franchise operated by Arriva, the multinational transport giant that is a subsidiary of Germany’s state-owned Deutsche Bahn – had not trained enough drivers. At the same time, Network Rail compounded the mess by allowing electrification work to overrun. An overlooked factor in the chaos is the legacy of something that happened six years ago, when Network Rail centralised its timetabling operations in Milton Keynes, and created a system that had far too little connection with realities on the ground. Such is yet another example of one of the great ironies of recent history: that Thatcherite believers in the liberating wonders of markets have proved to be very good at creating byzantine, top-down, endlessly failing systems rather suggestive of the worst aspects of the old Soviet Union.

Related: The town that refused to let austerity kill its buses | Aditya Chakrabortty

Related: Rail Q&A: Northern and Thameslink train chaos explained

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Our schools are broke – so why aren’t we talking about it? | John Harris

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Soaring class sizes, teaching hours cut, neglected repairs. Brexit has taken attention away from the cost of ideology-driven cuts

Michelle Gay is the headteacher of Osborne primary, a 270-pupil local authority school in Erdington, on the north-eastern edge of Birmingham. In total, 25% of her pupils are categorised as having special educational needs, 39% have a first language other than English, and 43% are eligible for free school meals.

Osborne primary has an urgent issue: a lack of money. Ofsted rates it as “a good school with outstanding leadership”, and since 2016 its numbers have been expanding: in September 2019 it will take on another new class, but Gay won’t have enough money to pay for a new teacher, so the teaching will be done by existing staff. She says she needs at least 13 classroom assistants to help children who need extra support – not least those who need help with English – but only has 11. The school used to get about £100,000 a year from Birmingham city council and other agencies to pay three staff who work on child protection and supporting parents, as well as counselling children with mental health issues. That money now has to come from the school’s own budgets. So to save £1,500, swimming lessons have been cut back, along with £2,000 worth of music tuition. Gay has explained all this on ITV Evening News and in the pages of the Birmingham Mail, but to no avail.

Related: Headteachers warn parents: there is not enough money to fund schools

Related: Our children are over-stressed. This is how we can protect them | Gaby Hinsliff

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