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Ivory Wave supporting The Sherlocks in Birmingham gig

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The Birmingham five-piece will perform at the O2 Institute on Sunday, February 23, before the South Yorkshire headliners play new tracks from their latest Top 20 album Under Your Sky – released last year.

Ivory Wave frontman George Johnson, guitarist Connor McMinn, bassist Luke Morris, drummer Seb Baldwin and synth player Rob Clarke will also take their upbeat sounds to new audiences around the country as main support to The Sherlocks on other tour dates, including London, Leeds and Glasgow.

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And The Sherlocks’ Brandon and Kiaran Crook spoke about why it is important to give other acts a leg up and how it was a West Midlands group who once helped them as an unsigned band.

“Even if you play hundreds of your own gigs, being asked to support an established name is a chance to get your music in front of a bigger crowd,” said Brandon.

“It happened to us in 2014 when Tom Clarke of The Enemy messaged us on Twitter to say we could have a slot with them. On the day of the gig, I picked Kiaran up from school, still in his uniform, and we all drove up to Glasgow for the sound check.”

Frontman Kiaran, his brother and drummer Brandon, lead guitarist Josh Davidson and his brother and bassist Andy are no strangers to Birmingham. They headlined the now defunct The Rainbow in 2015 before supporting The Libertines at Arena Birmingham in January 2016 and Ocean Colour Scene at Moseley Park later that year.

In October, they played a sold-out acoustic set at HMV in the Bullring.

“We’ve been given some opportunities, but we have also played every step of the ladder in music,” said Kiaran.

“Some bands get thrown on to support arenas tours on day one because of their record label, but you can miss out on so much by doing that,“ he added.

Lead singer Kiaran turned 24 in November and bassist Andy is even younger, but this summer will mark the 10th anniversary of The Sherlocks.

“We were never going to be a band which blows up overnight and that has suited us,” said Brandon.

“If things move too quickly then you risk disappearing as soon as you arrive. We look up to groups like Snow Patrol who took a decade to hit the big time, while Kings of Leon sold more copies of their fourth album than the previous three combined,” he added.

Earlier this month, the band posted pictures on social media of them back in the studio, fuelling speculation that new music may not be far away.

“We have about 18-to-20 potential songs to consider for our next album,” said Kiaran. “After our lighter, more melodic second record, we are now thinking of going back to a rockier sound.”

Birmingham five-piece Ivory Wave

Brandon says they learnt a lot from working on Under Your Sky with producer and lead singer of The Coral James Skelly at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool.

“He showed us how to craft songs and to ruthlessly edit,” he added. “Now we know what we want to do with our next album, and it is going to be lively.”

The band reached the Top 20 in October, but they would have charted higher if they had not been behind superstars such as Queen, Elton John, Lewis Capaldi and Ed Sheeran.

“We can’t compete with the big streaming artists and compilation albums, so it was our fans downloading and buying our CDs and Vinyl that got us there,” said Brandon.

“Now is a good time for bands, but it can also be hard. You have to keep working and fighting on,” he added.

The Sherlocks have been keen to get some of the best up-and-coming acts with them on this tour. Brandon explained how a previous chance meeting in the city led to Guildford band Estevans joining the line-up in Birmingham.

“I saw them supporting Planet at The Sunflower Lounge in Birmingham in May and spoke to them afterwards. We kept in touch and they jumped at the opportunity to be involved on the tour.”

Whatever happens next, The Sherlocks say they will always be indebted to West Midlands producer Gavin Monaghan. From 2015, he recorded singles with the young band at his Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton and then produced their debut album Live For The Moment at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire in December 2016.

“We thought he was a genius and he helped us get a Top 6 record and the biggest selling debut by any band in 2017. He was the right man at the right time for us,” said Brandon.

The band are releasing a new upbeat single called One Day this month and an acoustic piano version of NYC (Sing It Loud), a previous Radio X record of the week, is also being made available.

The Sherlocks play O2 Institute on Sunday, February 23, with support from Ivory Wave and Estevans. For more on The Sherlocks, including tickets for this weekend’s gig, visit their website.

By Richard Derbyshire

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‘We need an economy that works for people’: Albanese pushes gig workers reform

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Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese met with rideshare drivers as part of his push to give these workers better pay and conditions, spruiking “we need an economy that works for people, not people working for an economy”.

“It’s a fundamental difference of where we are as a society and my view is that customers as well would be prepared to acknowledge it’s just not fair if they knew that people were working sometimes for under $10 an hour without any rights whatsoever,” Mr Albanese said.

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Europe kicks off bid to find a route to ‘better’ gig work – TechCrunch

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The European Union has kicked off the first stage of a consultation process involving gig platforms and workers. Regional lawmakers have said they want to improve working conditions for people who provide labor via platforms which EU digital policy chief, Margrethe Vestager, accepted in a speech today can be “poor” and “precarious”.

Yet she also made it clear the Commission’s agenda vis-a-vis the issue of gig work is to find some kind of “balance” between (poor) platform work and, er, good and stable (rights protected) employment.

There’s no detail yet on how exactly regional lawmakers plan to square the circle of giving gig platforms a continued pass on not providing good/stable work — given that their sustainability as businesses (still with only theoretical profits, in many cases) is chain-linked to not shelling out for the full suite of employment rights for the thousands of people they rely upon to be engaged in the sweating toil of delivering their service off the corporate payroll.

But that, presumably, is what the Commission’s consultation process is aimed at figuring out. Baked into the first stage of the process is getting the two sides together to try to hash out what better looks like.

“The platform economy is here to stay — new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead,” said Vestager, segueing into a red-line that there must be no reduction in the rights or the social safety net for platform workers (NB: The word ‘should’ is doing rather a lot of heavy lifting here): “And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights. Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.”

“The key issue in our consultations is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy,” she also said, adding: “It is also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.”

The Commission’s two-stage consultation process on gig work starts with a consultation of “social partners” on “the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions in platform work”, as it puts it.

This will be open for at least six weeks. It will involve platforms talking with workers (and/or their representatives) to try to come up with agreement on what ‘better’ looks like in the context of platform working conditions, either to steer the direction of any Commission initiative. Or — else — to kick the legislative can down the road on said initiative if they can come up with stuff they can agree to implement themselves.

The second phase — assuming the “social partners” don’t agree on and implement a way forward themselves — is planned to take place before the summer and will focus on “the content of the initiative”, per Vestager. (Aka: what exactly the EU ends up proposing to square the circle that must be squared.)

The competition component of the gig work conundrum — whereby there’s also the ’employer fairness’ dynamic to consider, given platforms aren’t playing by the same rules as traditional employers so are potentially undercutting rivals who are offering those good and stable jobs — explains why the Commission is launching a competition-focused parallel consultation alongside the social stakeholder chats.

“We will soon start a public consultation on this initiative that has another legal base since it is about competition law and not social policies. This is the reason why we consult differently on the two initiatives,” noted Vestager.

She said this will aim to ensure that EU competition rules “do not stand in the way of collective bargaining for those who need it” — suggesting the Commission is hoping that collective bargaining will form some part of the solution to achieving the sought for (precarious) balance of ‘better’ platform work.

Albeit, a cynical person might predict the end goal of all this solicitation of views will probably be some kind of fudge — that offers the perception of a plug for the platform rights gap without actually disrupting the platform economy which Vestager has sworn is here to say.

Uber for one has scented opportunity in the Commission’s talk of improving “legal clarity” for platforms.

The ride-hailing giant put out a white paper last week in which it lobbied lawmakers to deregulate platform work — pushing for a Prop-22 style outcome in Europe, having succeeded in getting a carve out from tightened employment laws in California.

Expect other platforms to follow with similarly self-serving suggestions aimed at encouraging Europe’s social contract to be retooled at the points where it intersects with their business models. (Last week Uber was accused of intentionally stalling on improving conditions for workers in favor of lobbying for deregulation, for example.)

The start of the Commission’s gig work consultation come hard on heels of a landmark ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court (also last week) — which dismissed Uber’s final appeal against a long running employment tribunal.

The judges cemented the view that the group of drivers who sued Uber had indeed been erroneously classified as ‘self employed’, making Uber liable to pay compensation for the rights it should have been funding all along.

So if the EU ends up offering a lower level of employment rights to platform workers vis-a-vis the (post-brexit) UK that would surely make for some uncomfortable faces in Brussels.

While it may be unrealistic to talk about striking a ‘balance’ in the context of business models that are inherently imbalanced, given they’re based on dodging existing employment regulations and disrupting the usual social playbook for profit, he Commission seems to think that a consultation process and a network of overlapping regulations is the way to rein in the worst excesses of the gig economy/big tech more generally.

In a press release about the consultation, it notes that platform work is “developing rapidly” across various business sectors in the region.

“It can offer increased flexibility, job opportunities and additional revenue, including for people who might find it more difficult to enter the traditional labour market,” it writes, starting with some of the positives that are, pesumably, feeding its desire for a ‘balanced’ outcome.

“However, certain types of platform work are also associated with precarious working conditions, reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges, and insufficient access to social protection. Additional challenges related to platform work include its cross-border dimension and the issue of algorithmic management.”

It also notes the role of the coronavirus pandemic in both accelerating uptake of platform work and increasing concern about the “vulnerable situation” of gig workers — who may have to choose between earning money and risking their health (and the health of other people) via working and thus potential viral exposure.

The Commission reports that around 11% of the EU workforce (some 24 million people) say they have already provided services through a platform.

Vestager said most of these people “only have platform work as a secondary or a marginal source of income” — but added that some three million people do it as a main job.

And just imagine the cost to gig platforms if those three million people had to be put on the payroll in Europe…

In the bit of her speech leading up to her conclusion that platform work is here to stay, Vestager quoted a recent study she said had indicated that 35% to 55% of consumers say they intend to continue to ask for home delivery more in the future.

“We… see that the platform economy is growing rapidly,” she added. “Worldwide, the online labour platform market has grown by 30% over a period of 2 years. This growth is expected to continue and the number of people working through platforms is expected to become more significant in the years ahead.”

“European values are at the heart of our work to shape Europe’s digital future,” she also went on, taking her cue to point to the smorgasbord of digital regulations in the EU’s pipeline — and perhaps illustrating the concept of an overlapping regulatory net that the Commission intends to straightjacket platform giants into more socially acceptable and fair behavior (though it hasn’t yet).

“Our proposals from December for a Digital Services Act and a Digital Markets Act are meant to protect us as consumers if technology poses a risk to fundamental rights. In April we will follow up on our white paper on Artificial Intelligence from last year and our upcoming proposal will also have the aim to protect us as citizens. The fairness aspect and the integration of European values will also be a driver for our upcoming proposal on a digital tax that we plan to present before summer.

“All these initiatives are part of our ambition to balance the great potential that the digital transformation holds for our societies and economies.”

 

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London calls for data innovation on gig worker wages and high street revival – Cities Today

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London’s £1 million (US$1.42 million) Resilience Fund is now open for applications from businesses. It aims to tap data and technology to solve key challenges identified as central to the city’s recovery from the pandemic.

These include supporting gig economy workers, market traders and people suffering bereavement; advancing smart mobility and renewable energy production; and reducing food insecurity.

The Mayor’s Resilience Fund, delivered in partnership with Nesta and funded by the London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP), will provide grants of up to £50,000 for solutions which boost resiliency.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The challenges we face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic affect every area of our lives and the economy. But I know our city is home to a wealth of innovation – and so I have no doubt that many of the solutions we need to drive our recovery will come from right here in the capital.

“This has been a very dark and difficult period for our city and I hope that these funds will bring together the capital’s talent and help build a more resilient city.”

The challenges reflect how the pandemic has prompted a greater appreciation at all government levels of the power of data to address pressing and important problems. The crisis is also reinforcing a shift by many local governments away from a technology-led approach to ‘smart cities’.

As Theo Blackwell, London’s Chief Digital Officer, recently told Cities Today: “We need to start with what problem we need to solve and what the users need, and approach it from there.”

Gig economy

Partner organisations will work with the Greater London Authority to help funding applicants develop their ideas. Each partner is in charge of one of ten challenges.

London is particularly calling for data-driven ideas to tackle issues such as activating vacant properties on high streets (in partnership with Ealing Council’s High Streets Taskforce); helping local businesses access affordable workspace (with Hackney Wick and Fish Island Creative Enterprise Zone); and reducing vulnerable residents’ exposure to air pollution (with Lambeth Council).

In partnership with campaign organisation the Living Wage Foundation, the city is also seeking ideas which use data and technology to facilitate better pay and conditions for gig economy workers.

Laura Gardiner, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, said: “There are around 4.7 million workers in the gig economy and while many enjoy flexible working patterns, millions are trapped in low pay, with around 700,000 earning less than the minimum wage. The pandemic has shown how essential their work is, and the importance of providing them with greater security. One of the biggest challenges is that the nature of this work makes it hard for those in the gig economy to accurately gauge their take-home pay.

“By partnering with workers and innovators through the Resilience Fund, we hope to spur new tools that enable workers and employers to accurately gauge income and expenses on the gig economy platforms they use. This will allow a clearer picture on whether workers are earning the Living Wage, ultimately encouraging more gig employers to achieve this benchmark and so driving pay rises among low-paid gig economy workers.”

Transport and traders

Mobility is a key focus area and London is seeking solutions which use health and travel data to increase public confidence and enable safe re-opening. A challenge with Better Bankside BID and King’s College London will develop ways to make freight journeys more efficient.

Other challenges are improving bereavement support services for communities disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 (in partnership with Thrive LDN); diverting surplus food to community organisations (in partnership with Groundwork London); and using the river to generate renewable energy (in partnership with the Royal Docks Team).

London is also looking for ideas which can support its market traders, working with Hackney Council.

In addition, Khan launched a new Designing London’s Recovery initiative, which is also funded by LEAP and will bring public bodies, charities, businesses, social enterprises and educational institutions together to collaboratively develop new solutions with the Design Council and the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI).

Three specific challenges will be announced soon and will focus on vulnerable residents and those hardest hit by coronavirus. Previous Design Council projects have included addressing issues related to violence in A&E departments, ageing society, and shifting economic needs.

Successful applicants will receive a share of £500,000 as well as support from the Design Council.

Last week, LOTI announced the two successful bids that will share its £150,000 Covid Innovation Fund.

Half the money will go towards a project on using data to better understand digital exclusion and the other half towards a scheme to provide preventative support for vulnerable people affected by the pandemic.

Image: Katie Nesling Dreamstime.com

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