by Paddy Smith, Public Affairs Officer
On two Sundays in late September/October, members of the CIPD’s Public Policy and Public Affairs teams had their bags packed, tickets in hand, waiting to board trains – destination: Party Conference. It is that time of year again when politicians, the party faithful, journalists and interest groups gather en masse to hold fringe meetings, hear their leaders give rousing speeches and discuss the pressing issues of the day. From 26-30 September it was the Labour Party Conference down by the seaside in sunny Brighton, and from 4-7 October it was the turn of the Conservative Party to hold their Conference in a much greyer and wetter Manchester.
It is fair to say that the political landscape has changed immensely over the past few months since the General Election: the Liberal Democrats’ electoral near-wipe out meant that the CIPD didn’t even make the trip to their Bournemouth Conference this year. Labour also suffered a damaging defeat in the polls, and in the aftermath Jeremy Corbyn has assumed the Party’s leadership mantle. This has been accompanied by the Party’s firm shift to the left of the political spectrum and a significant change to its frontbench team due to a number of more centrally-minded former shadow ministers opting not to serve under the new leader.
Boosted by their unexpected election victory in May, the Conservatives went into Conference season in a buoyant mood. Free from the shackles of coalition, the key question was whether the Tories would seek to shift themselves on the political spectrum themselves, occupying the centre ground that has been vacated by Labour’s new direction of leadership.
You may wonder why organisations like the CIPD attend party conferences. It is the same reason that the public policy team at the CIPD exists, which is to help inform and shape debate, government policy and legislation for the benefit of individuals, employers and society. Our aim is to improve best practice in the workplace, promote high standards and represent the interests of our members at the highest level. Consequently, the party conference season can be very useful indeed in helping us boost our profile and spread our messages.
Organisations can run their own fringe events, inviting delegates and politicians to speak, thus raising their own profile while facilitating discussion on a subject important to them and placing themselves at the centre of that debate. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that party conferences bring together MPs, policy makers, think tanks and journalists into one location. CIPD has its own mission - to champion better work and working lives, and in April of this year we produced our Manifesto for Work , in which we set out specific policy calls to Government to enact a set of policies that will improve the nature of work and working lives for individuals, businesses and wider society. To put across these key messages we held meetings with other key organisations and, crucially, we met a number of MPs who share our interests and with whom we would like to work in the future.
Another benefit of attending party conferences is that we are often invited to appear on specialist panels at events held by other bodies. Our Head of Policy, Ben Willmott, appeared on panels at a number of events, putting across CIPD’s views on a range of employment-related issues. These ranged from the value of professional bodies to the policy-making process, self-employment, as well as the opportunities available to young people in a digital age. These events gave us an excellent platform to outline our views on crucial policy areas affecting the world of work, and allowed us to promote our evidence-led research based on members’ experiences in the workplace. Our recent work on graduate over-qualification, productivity, the Trade Union Bill and the apprenticeship levy sparked the interest of fellow attendees, and promoted considerable interest and debate among other bodies, including some with whom we haven’t yet worked, providing scope for future collaboration.
We also held three fringe events, all on different topics affecting the world of work including at the Labour Conference:
- Youth employment – crisis over? CIPD CEO Peter Cheese chaired a discussion addressing youth employment and employability, exploring whether youth unemployment is still an issue and what role employers can play in helping young people into work. The recently appointed Shadow Minister for Employment, Emily Thornberry MP, Anna Smee (CEO of UK Youth), Seyi Obakin (Commissioner at UKCES) and Katerina Rüdiger (Chief Community Officer at CIPD). The meeting was packed to the rafters, with a number of would-be attendees having to be turned away.
- More women at the top: smashing the glass ceiling in the boardroom Our second fringe debated how we can develop and sustain a talent pipeline for female workers at every level of an organisation tonsure that more women can access top-level jobs. The high-profile panel (again, chaired by Peter Cheese) included newly appointed Women & Equalities Minister, Kate Green MP, Vicky Pryce (Chief Economic Adviser at CEBR), Emily Cadman (Economics Reporter at the Financial Times) and our own Dianah Worman (Diversity Adviser at the CIPD). There was a lively discussion as to whether companies should voluntarily improve their gender diversity in boardroom positions, or whether Government should introduce quotas.
We hosted one event at the Conservative Conference:
- Volunteering and social action: the preserve of the wealthy? Our final fringe event saw Peter Cheese chairing another high-profile panel assembled to discuss the impact of social action, particularly volunteering. It highlighted the value that volunteering can add to local communities as well as the skills and confidence it can give young people in finding employment. The panel included Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister for Justice and Women & Equalities, Charlotte Hill (CEO of Step Up To Serve), Julia Bentley (Chief Executive of Girl Guiding UK), Ian Peters (Director of Customer Facing Strategy at British Gas) and Mike Westcott (Global HR Manager at National Grid). All panellists were hugely in favour of volunteering, and each in turn took the opportunity to praise the work the CIPD has been doing in promoting volunteering over the past few months.
In organising these fringe events, we were able to build relationships with those politicians who hold briefs that are directly relevant to our public policy work at CIPD. Caroline Dinenage, for example, has responsibility for closing the gender pay gap (see our recent response to the Government consultation on this subject) and getting more women on boards – two areas that we have a huge interest in and have produced a range of evidence and research over the past year. Looking to the future, it is now our job in Public Policy to continue building and maintaining these relationships with policymakers to further our goal of championing better work and working lives.