By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser
By the time you read this blog, it will only be a few hours until the polls open across Scotland for the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. The sixth session of Parliament with 129 new (and returning) MSPs will formally begin a few days after the votes are counted.
As with virtually every other aspect of our lives, COVID-19 loomed large over the campaign. Not only did the nature of campaigning and political debates have to adapt, but much of the policy discussion was focused on our post-pandemic recovery.
This election was the first time CIPD Scotland published a manifesto with a series of public policy asks, developed with our members, that we proactively discussed with the various political parties – be it MPSs or the advisers behind the scenes. I summarised our calls in one of my previous blogs, which I ended with this thought: “Our hope is that some of these ideas end up in party manifestos and, eventually, in future Programmes of Government”.
Well, all the manifestos have now been published and the verdict is in. Let’s see what we managed to achieve. We will focus on the manifestos of the three biggest parties in this blog – the SNP, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour.
The future of work
In the first set of calls we made, we argued for fair work to continue to be at the top of the government’s agenda. We were pleased to see the SNP focus on fair work as central to our economic recovery, although the lack of a commitment to better data gathering was disappointing. That being said, there is interest in this idea at civil service level, where we had some very useful discussions already.
While the Scottish Conservatives focus heavily on economic recovery and job creation, job quality – be it fair work or good work – does not get a mention in the manifesto. In contrast, Scottish Labour propose a series of measures to strengthen the application of job quality principles across policy areas. This includes a new Good Work Plan and a certification scheme for businesses.
We also lobbied parties on the creation of a Flexible Work Challenge Fund, which would offer financial support to businesses with innovative approaches to flexible work. A narrower version of such a fund was included in the SNP manifesto, focusing on the four-day week.
Skills for tomorrow
Our work on skills policy has been particularly well received. In our manifesto we made the case for a series of reforms aimed at addressing three kinds of balance – between the funding and support for academic and vocational education, between youth and adult skills development and between longer, structured courses and smaller bite-sized buildable qualifications.
We recommended a series of reforms to the Individual Training Account scheme, which made an appearance in the Scottish Conservative manifesto, transformed into a Right to Retrain account. While we will have further conversations around targeting, levels of funding and employer buy-in, this was a direct result of our conversations.
A few weeks later, Scottish Labour announced a similar policy, but coupled with additional support for learners’ living costs while training. This was a specific ask from us and CIPD Scotland were referenced in the press release announcing the policy.
While the SNP did not announce an expansion of ITAs in their manifesto, they did pledge stable funding for the National Transition Training Fund, something we called for too. On ITAs, we have also had useful conversation on ministerial and civil service level, so there is ongoing interest in the idea.
In addition to retraining, all parties made positive pledges in relation to vocational education and apprenticeships. The Scottish Conservatives in particular focused on the development of short sharp courses and while there are some questions over the proposed mechanism for their introduction, the call is in line with our manifesto too. In addition, our call for demand-led apprenticeship funding has also been reflected. Scottish Labour announced a National Apprenticeship Plan, although more detail is needed here, whereas the SNP also talks about working with employers to assess demand.
Wellbeing after COVID-19
Most of the manifesto focus in the health and wellbeing space is on macro issues like budgets – funding pledges, spending increase locks, percentages going to GPs or mental health increasing. Little attention is given to more granular issues like workplace wellbeing, although Scottish Labour do mention working with employers to achieve healthy workplaces that support workers to thrive mentally and physically, in addition to improving the mental health referrals process and boosting capacity.
Seeing all the major political parties focus on mental health is very positive. All three of the biggest parties want to see more funding go to frontline mental health services, which is what the CIPD and many others argued for. The SNP also includes a specific pledge on offering mental health first aid to everyone working in the public sector, which we argued could make a difference if introduced as part of a broader wellbeing strategy in workplaces. The SNP manifesto also includes a pledge to include a new Digital Mental Health programme, which should be done as part of a general improvement in signposting for employees and employers as called for by us.
Supporting inclusive workplaces
It is heartening to see inclusion prominently featured in all three manifestos. From making apprenticeships more diverse, through improving careers advice and employability services, to addressing the challenges faced by carers, all three parties’ plans would make a difference.
Some of our specific policy calls in this area have also been picked up. On childcare, the Scottish Conservatives focus their policy on wraparound childcare for P1-P3, which while welcome, does not address the gap between parental leave and funded childcare that currently exists. Both the SNP and Scottish Labour pledge significant levels of funding to expand the current childcare offer to 2yo and eventually to 1yo too – echoing our calls in the manifesto.
All three parties also make pledges in relation to Carer’s Allowance (soon to be Carer’s Assistance) and we were particularly pleased to see our call to scrap the full-time study rule explicitly reflected in the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Labour manifestos.
We made 21 public policy recommendations in Fairer workplaces for a fairer Scotland. At least half of them have appeared in some form in one or more of the main parties’ manifestos. In some cases, we can say with absolute confidence it was because of our conversations.
So yes, the verdict is in and we should be very pleased indeed. But not just us as a team at CIPD Scotland. This is the result of a lot of hard work by our members, whose insights and experiences informed these calls. They have influenced political parties’ agendas. They have paved the way for significant changes. They have made employees’ lives better. Well done!
We will of course continue to connect MSPs and policy-makers with CIPD members to ensure our profession’s voice is heard loud and clear in the next Parliament. If you are interested in public policy, you can join our Policy Forum by emailing email@example.com.
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