Dear Reader: A minister in a Job Centre in Harrogate + I run into trouble

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd who was in Harrogate last week to discuss the controversial Universal Credit system.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd who was in Harrogate last week to discuss the controversial Universal Credit system.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Harrogate Job Centre appears to be all keypads and lanyards.

There wasn’t half as much security the last time I was in a Job Centre.

Then again it’s not every day, I guess, that a senior government minister is in the building.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is paying a flying visit to check how Harrogate’s role as a pilot scheme is going in the next phase of the controversial Universal Credit roll-out which has been blamed by some for the rise in the use of Food Banks.

I’m supposed to get five minutes interview time with Amber Rudd in a plain office room somewhere in the heart of the building. In the event I get nine minutes 50 seconds, a victory of some sorts.

Face-to-face, the minister seemed keen to show she cares.
It was like meeting a politician from the fluffier, friendlier times of the early Noughties before the financial crash.

Like many politicians, she wriggled a little when confronted with something she’d said in the past but no longer seemed keen to repeat.

But she only bristled a little once, when I mentioned the name of Jeremy Hunt, the Tory leadership hopeful who she backed over Boris Johnson.

Before the mood was spoilt, Amber Rudd was off, whisked away by her minders.
Within seconds, she was in a minibus, turning out of the Job Centre into the leafy safety of Victoria Avenue.

Time for me to leave.

On the way out I was surprised by the hive of activity going on wherever I turned.

There was a buzz about the place. There seemed to be as many staff as job seekers and all of them seemed to be busy.

What a difference from the autumn of 1984 when I had to check into my local Job Centre in Scotland for five months after graduating from university.

In those days, the rooms were quiet and virtually empty. Dust hung in the air.

In those days I’m not sure how many of the small number of my fellow job seekers could actually be described as proper ‘job seekers.’

I do know a few of them had left school to go on ‘the dole’ and form a rock band in the heyday of the ‘indie’ era when British groups ruled the world.

It may not have been perfect weather at the weekend but it went like a dream for me, well mostly.

Knaresborough was the place to be on Saturday, the penultimate day of this year’s feva festival of entertainment and visual arts.

I’ve never seen Picnic in the Park so busy on the green, grassy slopes of the grounds of Knaresborough House.

The queues of people carrying plastic pint glasses snaked out the door and round the corner at the same location as Knaresborough Lions Beer Festival enjoyed bumper takings for charity.

All in all, a glorious afternoon.

The next day I was out in the windswept sunny open air taking part in my first 10k race since I learnt to walk again after my twin hip operations.

I’m no Andy Murray but I was really pleased with how it went.

In the circumstances, and bearing in mind the obvious limitations, I ran the perfect race.

Afterwards I was delighted, if exhausted. On the way home as fatigue set in I was involved in a minor crash in which my car was speared by a tow bar.

There I was standing in my black running shorts and ren running top, a race medal hanging round my neck, watching traffic build up all around me, realising it was nobody’s fault but my own.