Afore ye go… what about the rest of the United Kingdom?

Are our flags about to change?

Are our flags about to change?

This time next week we could be living in a very different country.

Maps may have to be redrawn to remove the words ‘United Kingdom’. Certain flags may become obsolete and sporting unions would have to be changed dramatically ahead of, say, the next Olympics in Rio. Currencies would have to be re-thought.

I would suggest the loss of MPs north of the border would also make it far more difficult for Labour to win a General Election when relying on an electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yes, the list of repercussions of a ‘Yes’ vote in next week’s Scottish referendum on independence from the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland goes on and on. And on.

Why anyone would want to carve up our tiny island further is beyond me – particularly as the inevitable consequence will be that each part will have its influence on the world stage diminished as a result.

Having covered General Elections as a journalist since 1992 I’ve developed a healthy disregard for opinion polls.

But it seems that the result of next week’s vote is genuinely too close to call.

To my mind, both sides of the debate are guilty of scaremongering and crass hypocrisy.

I think the truth is neither side fully understands or can predict all the ramifications of Scotland going it alone.

Sadly, the main parties in Westminster give the impression they have only just woken up to the possibility of the ‘Yes’ campaign winning.

The sight of the Prime Minister, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg scurrying north of the border to bolster the ‘No’ campaign smacked of desperation to me and I can’t believe it will have any substantial effect on voters.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond and the nationalists can’t shake off the simple fact that independence is a huge gamble – not just for Scotland, but for the UK as a whole.

Not that the SNP give much of a monkey’s about the rest of us.

A lot of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s rhetoric seems to be based on perceived historical injustices and the fact that the south east of England gets all the money and attention from the powers-that-be at Westminster.

Of course, on that basis, anywhere north of the Watford Gap has a gripe.

Indeed, I eagerly await Stoke-on-Trent’s bid for independence from London and the ‘sarf’ east.

I will, personally, be extremely sad to see a majority of the people in Scotland vote for independence. I love the place. I holiday there most years and I think it has the best landscape in Britain and, perhaps wrongly, I consider it part of ‘my country’.

I’ll be sad because we’ll be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of tradition and ties – involving, for example, the military and the Royal Family.

The Union that survived two world wars will have been undone by the drip, drip effect of devolution.

Even if it’s a ‘No’ vote this is a ‘win-win’ for Mr Salmond and the nationalists because more powers will be ceded north of the border by the main Westminster parties as an incentive to keep the fragile Union together a while longer.

I dare say there are plenty of people here in England who will say, without hesitation: ‘Let them go and have their independence!’.

They will be angry that the constituents of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown continue to enjoy free prescriptions and free university tuition paid for, arguably, by taxpayers in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile, here in England prescriptions cost £8.05 each and a university education is cost-prohibitive for many because it equates to a second mortgage.

I’m not jealous of the Scots. Good on ’em, I say.

In fact, here in England I would suggest we could learn a few lessons from them with regard to their relentless pursuit of equality and fairness for all.

I joked earlier about the Potteries and the north seeking independence from London and the south east. But I believe there is a genuine argument for the rest of the country outside London no longer being treated like second class citizens on account of the capital being ‘the City’ and our ‘financial powerhouse’ – as Boris Johnson and the like constantly to refer to it.

From an English perspective, the Scottish referendum on independence is sort of like watching your brother rail against his parents and threaten to leave home.

What’s worse is that you’re not allowed to have a say in his decision – even though your brother’s departure will have a huge impact on the family as a whole.

Whatever happens, I wish the people of Scotland all the best for the future because I consider them my friends and neighbours – even if they do take the high road.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Just one of the reasons the public doesn’t trust politicians

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Former Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

You’ll often hear politicians talk of how frustrated they are about voter apathy and how they must work harder to engage with the electorate.

Well if any MP, MEP or even local councillor wants to know why so many people feel disillusioned about politics in this country then they simply have to look at the Maria Miller saga.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that if such scandals never arose then the number of people going to the polls would rise exponentially.

There will, sadly, always be those who don’t vote.

We can make all the excuses in the world for them but the truth is most can’t be bothered to exercise their democratic right and the fact that our forefathers died to preserve such freedoms is entirely lost on them. They simply don’t care.

There are also, I believe, a growing number of people who can see very little daylight between the main political parties anymore and they simply distrust politicians.

It doesn’t help that when you ask a question of a Member of Parliament, for example, you never get a straight answer.

I’ve interviewed numerous MPs over the years and they have a way of talking which avoids them ever saying anything which could be held against them further down the line.

Indeed they will very often answer the question with another question or say (and this is my personal favourite): “Well, of course, what’s important here is (insert soundbite).”

No, what’s important is that I’ve noticed you have avoided answering the question, my right honourable friend.

The irony is that I think most people would be far more forgiving of someone who occasionally admitted they had made a mistake than someone who wriggles and squirms but always manages to justify their stance or actions.

I’ve heard and read that Maria Miller has been a terrific constituency MP. That may be true but I’m afraid her reputation will be forever tarnished by the expenses scandal which led to her stepping down from the post of Culture Secretary on Wednesday.

In her resignation letter she told the Prime Minister she was grateful for his ‘personal support’ but felt the ‘present situation’ had become a ‘distraction from the vital work of the Government’.

In the grand scheme of things one could ask why the media is devoting so much time and energy to this story. Is it a witch-hunt because Miller was overseeing the implementation of Press regulation on the back of the Leveson Inquiry?

And anyway, haven’t we got more important things to worry about – like the state of the economy, immigration or HS2?

The truth is, however, that the public remembers the MPs’ expenses scandal – exposed by the excellent work of the Daily Telegraph – all too well and the Miller affair has given us all flashbacks to nannies and duck ponds.

The unedifying spectacle of both sides of the House of Commons slipping and sliding in the mud as they attempt to gain the moral high ground hasn’t helped.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour covered themselves in glory in 2009 and the rank hypocrisy of millionaire opposition front-benchers, themselves far from whiter than white, feigning outrage on behalf of the public is there for all to see.

Last week Parliament’s Independent Standards Commissioner said that Maria Miller had broken Commons rules and should repay £45,000 in expenses she had claimed on a London house which she later sold for a £1.2 million profit.

Then, of course, a committee of MPs laughably reduced the repayment to £5,800 and we all heard Miller’s 32-second excuse for an apology.

Even on Wednesday, having resigned, Miller seemed utterly incapable of admitting she’d done wrong – which she had.

The best we got was that she ‘took full responsibility for the (Standards Commissioner’s) findings’.

Talk about dancing on the head of a pin. Just pay back the £45,000, duck. I dare say you won’t miss it.

Thankfully the former Culture Secretary has decided not to accept the ludicrous £17,000 golden handshake – er, I mean severance pay for Ministers – and instead chose to donate it to charity. You see it’s not just in the banking industry that failure, poor performance, dubious behaviour or resignations are rewarded.

In the same way that an unelected, highly-paid tier of council officers and NHS staff seem bullet-proof, many of our politicians are similarly shielded from the realities of life.

I would suggest it’s high time that we did away with the MPs’ expenses system altogether.

They do an important job which necessitates them living in London much of the time so let’s pay them a salary which covers their housing and travel costs and be done with it. That way there can be no temptation to abuse the system.

At the same time we shouldn’t ever have a situation again where MPs self-regulate in terms of standards or finances.

It simply doesn’t work because those inside the Westminster bubble haven’t a clue just how appalled the vast majority of us are at the way many politicians have behaved in recent years.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Civic honours for Robbie Williams something we can all agree on

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Today The Sentinel celebrates the achievements of a local lad done good.

It’s a story that will please many but doubtless cause a vocal minority to reach for their keyboards or pens to condemn the council, The Sentinel and probably the bloke in question too.

It was as recently as November 15 that I suggested through this column that our city should do something to honour Robbie Williams’s achievements – both in terms of his career in music and his charity work.

This was on the back of plans for RWFanFest – a celebration led by fans being planned here in Stoke-on-Trent to mark Rob’s 40th birthday and to raise much-needed funds for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice (DLCH).

My contention was that it was about time the city did something to acknowledge one of its most famous sons – i.e. Robert Peter Williams, formerly of Take That, who has for some time been the UK’s most popular solo music artist.

This is because, until now, there has been nothing here in the Potteries to say that a bloke who has sold more than 70 million records and won more BRIT Awards than any other artist comes from our neck of the woods.

The statistics of his career to date are impressive enough in terms of concert tickets and albums sold, but when you add to that his charity endeavours then surely no-one would dispute that his home city can rightly be proud of the man known to millions as Robbie.

With his mate Jonny Wilkes he created the bi-annual Soccer Aid football match which has so far raised more than £11 million for children’s charity UNICEF.

Perhaps more pertinently Robbie has given away £5 million of his own money through his Give It Sum charity to worthy causes here in North Staffordshire and, let’s not forget, bought £250,000 worth of shares in his beloved Port Vale which, at the time, saved the club from going bust.

He has a Staffordshire knot tattoo on the back of his hand and constantly references both his birthplace and his football club through his music lyrics and when on stage in front of millions.

Robbie may not live in the ST postcode area anymore but no-one could accuse him of forgetting his roots – unlike many celebrities drawn to the bright lights of London or Los Angeles.

Today we announce that the city council has decided to create various legacy projects which not only honour Robbie for his achievements to date but also tap into the potential of brand RW for the benefit of the city in terms of raising its profile and helping to bring in tourists and visitors.

This is something which, I believe, Robbie himself would approve of and I’m sure he’s as chuffed as his mum and dad are that very soon there will be a tourist trail, streets named in honour of his music, a ‘Robbie Day’ in schools and a photographic and memorabilia exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG).

Hopefully, one day soon, (and inevitably incognito) he will arrive in Stoke-on-Trent to have a look for himself at the legacy work being done in his name.

When initiatives like this are undertaken critics often argue that the recipient of the honour isn’t worthy or cannot be compared to other famous names who have been paid similar tributes.

In the case of Stoke-on-Trent we are talking about the likes of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell CBE and Sir Stanley Matthews CBE who have statues here in the Potteries and who have been honoured with street names and exhibitions.

Of course, to compare them with each other would be like comparing apples and pears. Both were sublime in their respective fields and I suspect both would be gracious enough to acknowledge a recording artist with the stature of Robbie Williams as someone worthy of recognition by his home city.

Another thing critics of initiatives such as those announced today often pick up on is the cost to council taxpayers so let’s nail that one now.

The cost for all the projects unveiled today is minuscule – primarily because they represent a partnership between the local authority, this newspaper, the DLCH, private firms, members of the community and individuals like Robbie’s mum and dad.

In my opinion spending a few thousand pounds on an exhibition at PMAG and creating a tourist trail (the other projects are cost neutral) is well worth the initial modest outlay when you think about the potential benefits.

This money wouldn’t have saved jobs or prevented a council-run facility from closing but it will definitely help brighten up our city and increase our ‘offer’, as they say in tourist-speak, to visitors to Stoke-on-Trent. Having a Robbie Day in schools sounds brilliant in terms of engaging children through music and art. Why not?

Naming streets with a nod to the bloke’s tunes costs nowt. It’s just a nice gesture so I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that – unless they want to pick fault with the names, that is. I guess someone’s bound to.

I’d like to think that down the line our temporary Robbie exhibition leads to a permanent one somewhere here in the Potteries – hopefully including items donated by the man himself.

The council and this newspaper are constantly criticised for being too negative about the city. Hopefully today will be one of those rare occasions where everyone can agree that the announcements represent a win/win for all concerned – especially, of course, a charity close to Robbie’s heart.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Why Drummer Rigby’s death shouldn’t be in vain

A public tribute to Drummer Rigby in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

A public tribute to Drummer Rigby in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

I’ve attended quite a few emotional press conferences over the last quarter of a century: Press conferences where the parents of missing children, relatives of crime victims and people who have suffered terrible abuses have opened their hearts.

But nothing has quite moved me in the same way as listening to the family of murdered soldier Lee Rigby on the radio.

The other day I found myself parked up at Cellarhead, waiting for the traffic lights to turn green, with tears trickling down my face as I heard Drummer Rigby’s fiancee Aimee West and step-father Ian Rigby speak for the first time.

Their grief was so absolutely raw, their statements conveyed so perfectly their sense of utter incredulity at what had transpired in Woolwich, that I’m not ashamed to say I wept with them.

A few days later I was driving through the village of Kingsley in the Staffordshire Moorlands when I spotted a Union Flag bearing the name Lee Rigby tied to a roadside bench and flanked by bouquets of flowers.

It was a simple, touching public acknowledgement of a tragedy which has stunned a nation.

Understandably, politicians of all persuasions have had to tread that fine line between condemnation and conciliation for fear of inflaming tensions between communities across the UK.

Sadly, this unspeakable act has been seized upon by extremists associating with organisations such as the English Defence League which are intent on peddling their own twisted agendas.

However, the simple truth is that despite what the perpetrators of this senseless killing might wish us to believe, there is no ‘us and them’.

The Britain of 2013 is a hugely tolerant, multi-cultural country where, for the most part, different communities and cultures rub along well.

The man with bloodied hands standing on a street in London wanting to spread his bile and hatred and justify the unjustifiable lost the argument the moment he picked up a machete.

That was when he stopped being a Muslim. Indeed, that was when he stopped being a human being.

If the men who mowed down Drummer Rigby and hacked him to death in full view of shoppers were hoping to strike terror into the hearts of the British public they failed.

We all know full well that the risk of any of us being targeted for a repeat of such a heinous crime is miniscule.

We are no less safe today than we were last Wednesday.

We also know that leaders of all faiths and true followers of Islam have condemned the killers – thereby robbing them of even the slightest shred of credibility or support.

Any of us can, by all means, disagree with the Government on anything we like – such as British troops being stationed overseas in countries like Afghanistan.

But to suggest that ‘the West’ is somehow staging a war against Muslims – as Drummer Rigby’s killers would have people believe – is utter nonsense.

The fact is that the innocent victims of the conflict in Afghanistan have been of all faiths and of none and British foreign policy is not to blame for the death of Lee Rigby.

Those awaiting trial for the murder of a young father in Woolwich last week are criminals, pure and simple: Sick individuals who don’t know right from wrong.

They haven’t achieved their aim of inflaming racial or religious tensions and they won’t persuade the Government to pull our Armed Forces out of Afghanistan any quicker.

However, what they have done is raise some other rather difficult issues for our politicians.

Questions like why we, as a nation, are unable to deport criminals who preach the kind of hatred spouted by Lee Rigby’s killers back to their country of origin because of their ‘human rights’.

Today, the alarming truth is that there are a number of individuals living in Britain who are cheerleaders for terrorists and we are powerless to get rid of them because successive governments have refused tackle the European Human Rights legislation which actually protects criminals.

Our security services can’t possibly monitor or even be aware of every radical preacher or radicalised individual and so, in my book, it would be far better to get shut of the ones we know about.

It is high time we followed the lead of countries like Australia and put the safety and well-being of the people of the UK first.

One of the great things about our democracy is that people are entitled to believe and say whatever they like – so long as it doesn’t offend or endanger someone else.

The great irony is that we seem to take a far tougher stance against people who make remarks which are offensive (because of ignorance) to others of a different ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation than we do against those who claim to be men of god but who preach a gospel of hate.

The sad truth is that you’ll have the book thrown at you for an ill-advised Tweet about gay people but you’ll be allowed to stay in the UK and we’ll keep you fed, watered and entertained if you encourage people to become terrorists.

Personally, I’d rather not have my taxes paying for food, televisions, game consoles and gym equipment for Lee Rigby’s killers for the rest of their miserable lives.

Rehabilitation? Too risky. Chance of parole? Zero. At least I hope so.

If it were up to me, if Drummer Rigby’s killers are found guilty in a court of law I’d make sure they receive the Osama treatment and their bodies would be dumped at sea.

No doubt this view won’t be popular with some readers who are opposed to the death penalty but I, for one, am through worrying about the human rights of those who show no humanity to others.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Can you remember the days before we were all connected?

John Caudwell, who went on to become a mobile phone billionaire, with one of the early Motorola devices.

North Staffordshire entrepreneur John Caudwell, who went on to become a mobile phone billionaire, with one of the early Motorola devices.

Just put it down for a minute while you read this, will you? Your Facebook account will still be there when you pick it back up again and, no, you absolutely do not have to answer that text message straight away.

That email can wait too. Honestly.

Mobile telephones: Great, aren’t they? One of the many technological advances for which we have the Eighties to thank. Sort of.

Passion-killers. Conversation killers. Movie-interrupters and promoters of ignorance on an epic scale.

OK, maybe that’s taking it a little far, but you take my point?

Unbelievably, it’s actually 30 years since the first mobile telephones went on sale at an eye-watering £2,300.

Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X, which had been in development for about a decade, was as big as a house brick, weighed more than a kilo and was only seen initially on TV programmes or being lugged around by the ‘City boys’ of London.

However, its arrival sparked a race between manufacturers to produce ever smaller, more lightweight and – crucially – mass marketable phones.

During the 1980s, the growth in popularity of the mobile was largely fuelled by carphones.

Indeed, when I started work as a cub reporter for a local press agency in 1989 my colleagues and I shared a pager – yes, like a doctor would wear – when we were ‘on-call’.

It wasn’t until two years later that we were equipped with a big chunky mobile telephone which I felt hugely self-conscious about using when it first went off one night in a pub up Hanley.

By the end of the Eighties Motorola was ready to follow up its world first with another one – the first ‘flip-phone’.

The MicroTAC had a pop-up aerial but was still nine inches long and weighed just over 12 ounces.

It is worth pointing out that at this point, of course, a mobile telephone was still, well… a mobile telephone.

People weren’t using them to send dozens of text messages every day, they didn’t have built-in cameras and they weren’t connected to the internet because it didn’t exist.

It was a novelty just having a phone in your car, to be able to take to the shops, the pub or a football match.

Most of us were still using red phone boxes or those awful metal BT ones which took cash or cards.

Bear in mind my generation, and all those before, were just about getting used to cordless telephones in the home. The ones which had digits rather than dials.

When we made arrangements to meet someone this was done via a quick call from the home phone.

We would just turn up, as agreed – without feeling the irrational urge to check someone’s estimated time of arrival or to inform the world where we (or they) were at a given moment.

However, there was no stopping the march of progress and over the years mobile phones just kept getting smaller and more powerful – adding that word ‘functionality’ with every new model.

I’ll mention just a couple.

By 1999 the Nokia 3210 was on the market and became the first ‘mobile’ to gain widespread popularity among high school pupils.

Then the Blackberry 6210 was launched, 10 years ago, and that really did put an end to family life as we know it for many who couldn’t resist using their phone to check their emails when they should have been doing something more important.

After that, phones got ‘smart’ – started storing music and getting cosy with internet applications and the rest, as they say, is history.

Like the internet and email, mobile telephones have undoubtedly revolutionised our lives – for good and ill.

I guess the trick is knowing when, and where to switch them off…

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

There’s echoes of the Eighties recession in these austere times

Mention the Eighties and most people think of a ‘me, me, me’ society and a spend, spend, spend mentality. A time of big egos, big hair and big budgets.

However, the truth is the decade of decadence showed no indication of its propensity for largesse when it staggered into being amid a severe recession.

Indeed, looking back you can’t fail to notice that the first three or four years of the 1980s bear striking similarities to today’s austere economic climate.

The UK actually entered recession ahead of the rest of the world in 1979. It coincided with the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ during which there were widespread strikes by trade unions demanding larger pay rises for their members as Jim Callaghan’s Labour government attempted to maintain a pay freeze to control inflation.

Industrial action included an unofficial strike by gravediggers which left bodies unburied for weeks and strikes by refuse collectors which led to rubbish piling up on the streets.

Elsewhere, NHS ancillary workers formed picket lines to blockade hospital entrances – forcing many to admit emergency patients only.

These events prompted The Sun to publish its now infamous ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ headline – off the back off an ill-advised quip by Callaghan – and it was against this backdrop that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government swept to power in May 1979.

The political change heralded a cataclysmic shift in policy.

Maggie and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe inherited an economy with inflation up at around 27 per cent.

This led them to combat the recession in a thoroughly uncompromising fashion.

They sparked outrage by raising taxes and cutting public spending – all of which will sound awfully familiar for anyone who has been listening to the Coalition government over the last 12 months or more.

At the beginning of 1981 the recession held the UK firmly in its grip: Unemployment was approaching three million and manufacturing capacity fell by a fifth. At the same time genuine household incomes (what people have left, after taxes, to spend or save) fell – as they did in 2010.

Thirty years ago the average house price was £24,188, petrol was 35p per litre, a packet of cigarettes cost 80p, a pint of beer 53p, a loaf of bread 39p and a pint of milk just 20p.

Millions were forced to tighten their belts and the battle to bring down inflation raged on.

Discontent was rife, and culminated in urban riots during the summer – with the main trouble flaring in the Brixton area of London, Handsworth in Birmingham, the Chapeltown area of Leeds and Toxteth in Liverpool.

There was, of course, no internet or social media to fan the flames of civil unrest back then. The riots of 1981 were more about inner-city deprivation and rising racial tensions than the naked desire for the latest designer trainers or plasma screen TVs.

In early 1983, Britain became a net importer of goods for the first time – mainly due to the loss of heavy industry and manufacturing.

Areas such as the West Midlands, Tyneside, Yorkshire, Merseyside and South Wales were particularly badly hit and saw soaring unemployment rates.

It wasn’t until the mid-Eighties that the recession eventually petered out but by then the damage was done and the landscape had changed.

Britain’s trade unions had been neutered, its mining industry had been dismantled, hundreds of factories had been closed and gone was its proud reputation as the ‘workshop of the world’.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the Eighties recession I reckon that it is probably that things will probably get a lot worse before they get better.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Signs of recovery? Not when it’s every man for himself

I don’t pay any attention to the seemingly endless roll-call of financial experts and economists dredged up by political parties and the media to gaze into their crystal balls and offer pearls of wisdom about the recession.

My view is that if they didn’t see the mother of all financial storms coming then they can’t be relied upon to predict how bad it will be or how long it will last.

The FTSE may have risen a few points recently but does anyone in the real world outside the City or Westminster honestly believe we are seeing any ‘green shoots of recovery’?

I only use that lazy cliché because I’m so sick of hearing the phrase bandied around by people shielded from the harsh economic realities of Britain in July 2009.

People with protected pension funds or on huge bonuses or commenting from the comfort of a BBC studio in London.

Recovery? Do me a favour. The UK is going to hell in a hand-cart and I can see precious little being done to minimise the casualties.

Take, for example, my brother Matthew. He’s 32, single, and a window fitter. He works hard and he’s very good at what he does.

And right now he’s the dictionary definition of how the recession has kicked the you-know-what out of the working man.

At the start of the year Matt was working in London building a new school for a company based in Cannock.

If truth be told, he’d rather not be working away from home but needs must when the Devil vomits on your oatcakes.

Inevitably, a bloke from the Potteries working in The Smoke incurs diesel costs, lodgings and tube fares –all of which, crucially, can’t be deferred.

Matt became increasingly concerned that he hadn’t been paid as promised but was told time and time again that there was nothing to worry about.

After 12 weeks, numerous telephone calls and no less than three visits to the firm’s headquarters, the boss finally strolled out of his office to tell him the company was going into liquidation and he wouldn’t be getting a penny of the £2,000 he was owed.

This left my brother with no work and two months’ worth of bills to pay.

To add insult to injury the same bloke who had strung him along for three months was trading again the following week, from the same building, through a sister company with a slightly different name to the firm that went bump.

Matt being Matt, he kept his worries to himself and begged, borrowed and scraped together the money he owed.

He then began sub-contracting for another firm, based in Cheshire, working on a variety of building projects in London and Leicestershire.

Three weeks ago he quit. Up until now he has been paid £1,100 of the £3,000 he is owed for work he completed months ago.

To date, excuses for non-payment have included the boss being on holiday and a woman in the firm’s accounts department being off with swine flu.

All the while Matt has a mortgage to pay, repayments for his van to keep up, and all the other household bills we know and love so well – not to mention the stress of wondering where his next pay packet is coming from.

After a few weeks in limbo, he has just started work up at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and has been promised he will be paid fortnightly.

Fingers crossed, then.

There are people a lot worse off than my brother – something which Matt often reminds me.

People with families and young children who have been made redundant or treated just as shabbily by bean-counters only interested in the short-term and self-preservation.

The sad thing is that at a time when our glorious Prime Minister is telling us we should all be pulling together, it’s actually every man for himself.

If there was any justice then the bloke who owes my brother two grand would have the Mercedes he drives impounded until he had paid off all his creditors and he would be barred from running a business ever again.

The reality is there is very little protection for the most vulnerable members of the UK’s workforce and the kinds of sharp practices that have always been used by businesses are even more prevalent now the credit bubble has burst.