Championing better work and working lives: a year in review of the CIPD’s public policy work in 2019–20

By Paddy Smith, Public Affairs Manager.

An integral part of the CIPD’s mission to champion better work and working lives is to drive change with government and policy makers that improves the world of work for all. We do this through our policy and advocacy work: our team of policy advisers produces expert research and our public affairs team manages relationships with a range of stakeholders who influence public policy. Ahead of the publication of our formal annual report in November, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the past year with you.

A year like no other

A feature of public policy work is that it is led by the current affairs agenda, where some policy issues are ‘in vogue’ at one point but can quickly fade into the background once circumstances change. Our financial year 2019–20 demonstrated this better than any other. In July 2019, Boris Johnson was appointed Prime Minister and the first few months of his premiership were dominated by deadlock in Parliament trying to finalise the UK’s departure from the European Union. This then led to a General Election in December 2019 in which the Conservatives gained an 80-seat majority.

In normal times, a government with an 80-seat majority would be able to implement an ambitious agenda, and the Queen’s Speech delivered just before Christmas aimed to do just this. In particular, its Employment Bill sought to bring together a number of strands of the Good Work agenda that has been, and continues to be, a key strand of our policy work. Our research has proved to be instrumental in informing the measures being brought forward. However, before this work could be continued, the coronavirus arrived.

The pandemic strikes

Understandably, the vast majority of the Government’s focus shifted in February-March to tackling the Covid-19 crisis rather than its proactive policy implementation, and we mirrored this shift in our policy team. We stepped up our engagement across government with HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC). We speak to officials within each of these departments on a regular basis, discussing a whole manner of issues.

This engagement has been two-way: we’ve taken regular survey data snapshots of employer and employee sentiment, for example through our Labour Market Outlook; and have passed on the views and the experiences of our members, sharing these with government ministers, civil servants and influential politicians and policy makers.

We have also worked with the Government to translate government guidance into content for our members on our Coronavirus Hub. For example, we provided expert advice on the official guidance produced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and have also produced our own content. We have also run webinars with HMRC officials and other experts on issues facing members, and the workplace, and continue to do so.

Furthermore, we have constantly made the case for better work and job support through our media work throughout, and our policy experts have been frequent contributors and commentators on the response to the pandemic. Moreover, our research is commonly cited in the press. We also make public recommendations to the Government on its response, and we were first to call for the furlough scheme to be made flexible back in April when Peter Cheese wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. We have also met with members of the Treasury teams from both Labour and the SNP to discuss the government response and put forward our recommendations.

Away from the pandemic – continuing to push for Good Work

While a significant part of our public policy focus has been on the pandemic, we have continued to press for employers to put good work at the heart of their business. While recent years have also seen a central focus on improving the quality of work through the Taylor Review and Good Work Plan, devolved and local governments have also taken it upon themselves to be standard bearers for Good Work by developing their own Standards and Charters for employers to sign up to. Our expertise has been recognised by national and local governments and we have advised on these. The first of these was the Good Work Standard in London, which was launched in July 2019 when Peter Cheese joined the Mayor of London at City Hall. Similar charters have been launched in Manchester and they are also under development in Liverpool and Wales. Our teams in the North of England and Wales have been working to influence these and ensure our voice is heard.

We are rightly seen as experts on Good Work and this is underpinned by our annual Good Work Index. We also have some further research in the Good Work space that will be published shortly, looking particularly at employment status and labour market enforcement.

An increased presence in Scotland

Over the past year, we’ve really stepped up our policy presence in the UK Nations and Regions. We now have a dedicated policy and public affairs team in Scotland, and they published ‘Working Lives Scotland’ in June 2020. This was our first report dedicated to job quality in Scotland, which examined the five dimensions of ‘Fair Work’ conceptualised by Scotland’s Fair Work Commission. We’ve also launched a sustained stakeholder engagement programme to raise our voice in Scotland.

Work is already underway to join up our policy work with the teams in Wales and Northern Ireland to boost our profile and voice in these countries, as well as in the North of England.

The year ahead

The Government response to the pandemic will, of course, continue this year and we will conduct more research and commentary on that. However, we are not losing focus on the important issues facing the workplace and will make the case for Good Work as the economy recovers. A key ingredient for good work is excellent line management, and we will be producing research and guidance for dealing with important people issues including bereavement, drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic abuse.

We’re also going to be kicking off campaigns looking at four areas where we want to drive positive change in the world of work. These campaigns will focus on: Diversity and inclusion; Wellbeing and employment relations; Reward and recognition; and Skills and learning. Look out for these and opportunities to play a part in boosting the voice of the profession to champion better work and working lives.

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