I attended the Inclusive Prosperity Conference at the Science Museum this week which was chaired by Ed Balls MP and the keynote speaker was Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party and a possible next Prime Minister. The conference was well attended and promoted a number of reports such as Making the UK a Globally Competitive Investment Environment by Mike Wright from Jaguar Land Rover, the Armitt Review of Infrastructure Planning and Mending the Fractured Economy by Lord Adonis.
The Conference took the shape of an opening address by Lord Sainsbury, two panels of experts including all the authors of the above reports and a fluent key note speech by Mr Miliband. The press noted that he did not rely on his notes and was confident in his delivery. Well I expect this from any one leading a political party. Mr Cameron does this too, so that makes them one all in the articulacy department and frankly it's the content not the delivery that matters.
The tone of his speech was upbeat and focused on the future but with absolutely no reference to how we got here despite his comment that 'We cannot solve the problems by pulling the policy levers in Whitehall'. 'Hmm?' I thought, but you can certainly cause the problems there. A bit of humility may have helped better engage those pragmatists in the audience worried by the reality of young people struggling to get a job that pays enough to rent a flat (let alone even thinking about buying one) in the city of their birth. It's therefore a tad hard to subscribe enthusiastically to Mr Miliband's description of London as the 'best city in the world' when we can neither employ nor house our own children.
He talked about the importance of apprentices and why the balance between those going to University and those becoming apprentices was wrong and should be rethought! Another reason why we should know where we came from in order to know where we are going especially as he promised to abandon short termism in favour of a One Nation Mission to create prosperity and growth. We should learn from Germany he announced. The German State Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was a speaker in the afternoon. But Ed, wasn't the rush to University one of your party's policies which many of us cautioned against?
He talked a great deal about how Britain needs to value business and his party is going to support business in terms of tax reviews, support for R and D, family friendly policies, increased gold standard opportunities for apprentices and improved upskilling of staff. Indeed, he wants entrepreneurs to be considered heroes. I hope he is including social entrepreneurs into his Hero Gang.
I suggest before he forms his gang he read a recent report by Intentionality Social Enterprise: What's Love Got to Do With It? It was an attempt to examine whether love was an essential ingredient to building and sustaining businesses. The conclusion was that whether a social or commercial business we need to embrace the notion of love so it permeates the service, supply chain and the competence of good quality professional business relationships. The report includes some wise words of Tim Sanders, Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. According to Sanders, love is the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your knowledge, networks and compassion with your business partners and recognising the less you expect in return for acts of professional generosity the more you will receive. So, Mr Miliband, I hope this frames the loving relationship you will form with business, so select your gang carefully.
During his speech, Mr Miliband made it clear that he wants to develop IT and broaden technology. He thinks this is critical and Labour want to see everyone moving into higher end jobs through the power of technology. Oh dear I thought, what about all those people who are modern day servants in the service industries, those of us who serve and are proud to serve ? (Or 'servers' if you want to stay with IT). I refer to those of us in caring and serving posts. Those who are the glue to making life as it stands happen. Yes, the child carers, and the elderly carers, the call centre workers, the retail assistants, the nurses, the hotel workers, the drivers, the cleaners, those whose jobs have little to do with technology but everything to do with helping a city work effectively and achieve a family friendly society. There was no mention of them at all and when a woman who runs a Finance Company asked about them there was no answer. Be careful of the hourglass squeeze. IT has killed whole communities, it has advanced some places and people but damaged many of the Labour Heartlands. Inclusive Prosperity was the title of the Conference, so Ed keep inclusive in your mind's eye. Don't be distracted by the glitter of technology and risk another policy that will need fixing in ten years having caused untold human misery.
Also think carefully about your big ambitions. If you want to increase apprentices, an idea which is supported by so many business people, why create a policy that says that entry to apprentices has to be an A to C in English and Maths and young people will be expected to stay in school until they are 19. This is already unachievable for many of those 850,000 young people who are currently unemployed so don't insist on an approach that will limit their opportunities even more. Sir John Major's quote in the Evening Standard (7th July) owned his Government's part in the problem.
"I have taken the view for a very long time we have undervalued education... climbing out through education is the only route through. After 30 or 40 years and governments of every sort can bear a share of the blame for this, there are people still trapped by circumstance who cannot climb out".
If you are going to improve the teaching of Maths and English in school, begin in the Early Years and pay a lot more attention to those less able pupils constantly failed by education. Read Sir David Metcalf's report which shows clearly why we have failed to invest in the low skilled workers, left them unable to compete with better trained migrants and oversaw the increase in British young people becoming a million NEETS, don't fail them again. http://issuu.com/leyf/docs/eye-putting_the_sparkle_back_into_stem-101200
Ed Balls' speech Beyond the Third Way: A New inclusive prosperity for the 21st century at London Business School on 30th June also acknowledged that Labour did not do enough on skills despite recognising that globalisation, whilst creating global economic integration and a mobile IT middle class also led to much greater instability than any politician anticipated and the rising inequality is now on a scale not seen since before the First World War.
The reality now is that Britain has more overqualified workers than any country other than Japan and a marked increase in low paid work, poor contracts, no sick or holiday pay or even guaranteed hours. Less than 8% of all employers including less than a third of the biggest firms offer apprenticeships to give young people a route to work. However, 53,000 (75%) of all social enterprises proactively address unemployment and marginalised work force through employment and apprenticeships. The Wright Report advocated that employers should have full ownership of the standards and public funding for apprenticeships and the sector councils alongside reforming the LEPS and placing a responsibility on them to expand the supply of high quality apprenticeship places, a point also made by Lord Adonis in his report Mending the Fractured Economy and in the Changing London The Best Place in the World to Grow Up Report. change-org.org.uk
Mr. Miliband warned that he won't always agree with us but my advice to him is to listen and think until his head hurts. Ambitious statements are not about real people but about politicians' egos. Policies driven by pragmatic and experienced people is what will change lives. He also needs to articulate how his love with business will also build social capital. Mark Carney's recent speech about inclusive capitalism asks that we build business in a way that affirms a sense of responsibility, collaboration, fairness and trust and reinforces the bonds of social capital so badly eroded by recent financial and banking corruption. A society that provides opportunity to all of its citizens is more likely to thrive than one which favours an elite. Ed Balls reminded us about the depth and scale of disenchantment that goes beyond one party, beyond one government. Mr Miliband ignore it at your peril.