News | 10 October 2019

Political party conferences 2019: which policy announcements could affect workplace and FM professionals?

Throughout the recent party conference season much of the media’s attention remained focused on Brexit, deal/no deal and the Supreme Court’s verdict that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful. However, with an imminent general election increasingly likely, the main political parties were keen to announce a broad range of new policies and plans, many of which will have implications for the workplace and facilities management profession.

 Employment & pay

  • The Chancellor laid out his ambitious aim of ‘ending low pay’ by increasing the National Living Wage to £10.50 an hour within five years and extending its scope to some 650,000 21-25 year olds. This compares to Labour’s previously announced policy of raising the National Living Wage to £10 an hour for workers of any age in 2020
  • At their own conference Labour proposed reducing the average working week to 32 hours within 10 years and cancelling the UK’s opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive which limits the hours people can work to 48 in an average week, as well as ending in-work poverty within its first term in office. Other pledges included introducing the right to flexible working from the first day of employment, outlawing zero hours contracts and requiring all large employers to introduce a menopause workplace policy
  • While both these targets are laudable, neither party outlined plans to sustain such pay rises through increasing productivity levels. The Low Pay Commission’s role will be vital in advising government on low pay rates and monitoring progress for any employment effects
  • For their part, the Liberal Democrats proposed rolling out free sanitary products to schools, hospitals, hostels, shelters, libraries, leisure centres, GP surgeries, food banks, colleges and universities
  • Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats committed to improving mental health services and the pay, training and employment conditions of NHS staff

Infrastructure & planning

  • A significant infrastructure programme was announced by the Tories, including £25 billion to upgrade England's road network and a £5 billion boost to roll out England's 5G networks to the remotest 20% of the country by 2025
  • The Conservatives unveiled plans to modernise the primary care estate through a substantial hospital building programme, with £2.8 billion allocated for six new large hospitals to be built by 2025 and seed funding for more than 20 other projects
  • Labour pledged not to create more private prisons and to bring all PFI prisons back in-house, while the Liberal Democrats outlined new powers to require soundproofing of new developments next to music venues and to introduce further exceptions to laws around noise to protect longstanding music venues

Energy and environment

  • Having previously legislated to achieve a net zero carbon economy by 2050, the Conservatives announced a £1 billion investment in the automotive industry focusing on green growth and reducing emissions in the road transport sector, creating more green spaces including ‘pocket parks’ and introducing a
    Future Homes Standard, which government is now consulting on, to improve the energy efficiency and reduce emissions of homes
  • Labour confirmed an even more ambitious net zero carbon target of 2030 with substantial investment in green technology such as £3.6 billion for the electric vehicle charging networks and a call for all business and government car fleets to go 100% electric by 2025, as well as a Green New Deal for the NHS with increased use of renewable energy, clean air around buildings, investment in efficient energy systems, planting one million trees across the NHS estate and swapping to low emission vehicles

Skills and education

  • Despite growing calls from many industry sectors, no plans were announced for significant changes to the apprenticeship levy - even though Government itself has recognised that the levy is not functioning as originally planned and that there is an increasingly severe shortage of non-levy apprenticeship funding. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined calls for the levy to be replaced by a wider training funding scheme
  • The Conservatives reinforced their commitment to changes to the technical and vocational education over and above apprenticeships and T-Levels for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent of the population that don't go to university’. They announced funding for a further eight new Institutes of Technology that will offer training for students in STEM subjects and the creation of a new Skills and Productivity Board to provide strategic advice on the skills and qualifications needed to bridge skills gaps in fields such as digital, construction, manufacturing, and engineering
  • With Brexit and/or a general election looming, the Conservatives restated their commitments on immigration, including the ending of free movement of people; a policy which will present an even greater challenge for those dealing with the growing skills gap facing our profession. Meanwhile, for their part Labour pledged to maintain and extend free movement rights for EU citizens

It remains to be seen how financially viable many of these proposals are, especially given the uncertainty about the potential economic consequences of leaving the EU. A question mark also hangs over the Government’s spending capability: former Chancellor Philip Hammond’s ‘fiscal headroom’ - and more - is likely to be offset by impact of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

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