Commuters Had To Pay A Ten-Bob Rent "Fine" (24 May 1974)
No doubt Gazette readers were pleased to see in the May 3 issue that only one per cent of Bletchley’s working population were unemployed as against a national average of 2.9 per cent.
They comprised 160 men and 40 women. As against this there were current vacancies for 400 men and 290 women.
Wolverton was in a rather less favourable position with 1.3 percent unemployed and vacancies for 215 men and 86 women.
The Bletchley figures are good. But do not let us go into raptures about them. For the truth is that throughout its development Bletchley has been blessed by an exceptionally high level of employment. And it was even higher before any special development began.
For instance, the figure of one per cent unemployed cannot compare with the position in September, 1946.
The Gazette then reported that for the past twelve months unemployment in Bletchley had been NIL. We also reported that currently there were vacancies for 1,287 men and 280 women. We added that the railway was short of men and that the brickworks force could easily be doubled.
Clearly Bletchley did not need to solve its employment problem, for the problem was non-existent on crude figures alone.
But it did need new industries for other reasons. A recession in either or both of its main industries could seriously have altered its employment position. And a wider choice of jobs was needed to keep young people in the town.
A town without a strong complement of young people can eventually be in a parlous plight. These were the clouds on the horizon for Bletchley and even more so for Wolverton, with its heavy dependence on the railway carriage works.
The solution for Bletchley largely came through the application of the Town Development Act of 1952. Under this scheme of a local-house-with-a-local-job for ex-Londoners the town’s age ratios changed dramatically and quickly. So quickly that the services needed for a now-preponderately young population could not catch up. Some would say they never have.
However that may be, the unemployment rate stood for a very long time at from 0.4 to 0.6 percent, mainly the latter. That is to say, at half the present rate, comparatively good as it is.
The development scheme had not been going long before a contretemps was encountered. Ex-Londoners were allowed a council house on the understanding that they would take a job with a particular local firm. This they did.
Then some of them began moving to other local firms. This was condoned. After all, they were still working in the town. To tie them to their first firm smacked too much of the agricultural tied cottage system for comfort. They should be allowed to improve themselves.
Eventually, however, some of them began working outside the town. In particular, they were lured by the comparatively big money being offered by the Luton and Dunstable engineering firm. Some went there only a week or two after taking the Bletchley job that allowed them a Bletchley house.
This was different kettle of fish. It was defeating the object of the exercise. It was turning Bletchley into a dormitory town. It was beginning to look almost like a racket on the part of the tenants concerned.
Matters came to a head in 1956 when it was found that there were no fewer than 60 of these Bletchley sleepers. But what could the council do? They could not very well evict them all. Nor a single one as a warning. So they decided to charge them an extra 10s a week on the rent.
The scheme lasted exactly one month. It was then killed and buried, never to be resurrected in the life of the old council. A number of councillors who had favoured the scheme declared themselves against it at the next council meeting.
The reason given for the council’s about-face was “the present state of suitable employment in the town.” Implying that these men had special skills for which they could not at that time find an amenable outlet in the town. They all got their money back.
There was also another council housing arrangement that came increasingly unstuck from the first challenge. It concerned houses rented by employers for occupation by their employees.
For a while, all went well. Then one man left his employer for another and applied for the tenancy of the house he occupied. There was quite a stir about this, but eventually the council decided that in such cases they would not deprive a man of his home.
I came into “my” council house under a similar arrangement. Immediately before that I lived in a tied house in Queensway. That house became needed for shop development. My firm applied for a council house and were awarded this one. They paid the rent and rates and simply deducted them from my wage.
I was quite happy, but when that case occurred in council I pointed out to my employers that I might now just as well take over the rent book myself and spare us all an unnecessary complication. I daresay there were others who did the same.
As to the employment situation, I wish continued good luck to local employment exchange manager, Miss Mary Hartwell. Her father was a former station master at Bletchley. For all of our sakes may the signals long remain at green.