The National Policy Forum has been inactive since the General Election. Its plenary meeting scheduled for the summer was cancelled and, after a flurry of activity while the manifesto was finalised, the policy commissions have had little to do. We still reply to submissions made through the website (policyforum.labour.org.uk) but we hadn’t met since the election.
All that changed in December with meetings of the policy commissions. My commission (Economy, Business and Trade) met on 13 December and set a programme for work over the next few months. The short notice meant that many members sent apologies, including Barry Gardiner and Rebecca Long Bailey. John Mc Donnell was the only front bencher to make it.
Shadow Ministers’ Updates
Reflecting on the politics of the recent Budget, John Mc Donnell spoke of paralysis in the government. It is not just that Brexit has overloaded them, there was also the DUP’s veto, the “unbelievable level of infighting” and back benchers discovering the impact of austerity on their constituents. Adding to the pressure was the downgrade to economic forecasts due to the persistent flat lining of productivity. This constrained the ability of the Chancellor to offer much to tackle the multiple crises in health, social care and increasingly children’s services. With the number of children in care rising to 70,000, this was “a crisis that could become a catastrophe”.
On the treasury team’s strategy, John said that the war on austerity had been won, the next step winning the argument for fair taxation was being achieved. Now the focus was on winning the case for investment, and resistance to Labour’s case would be fierce. The stage beyond would be to make the case for distribution with more of national income going to wages.
The commission reviewed the resolutions passed at conference which relate to its areas. These will be taken into future policy work. We also had reports from the policy seminar held during the conference. This had been very well attended and some felt that the size meant that there was no opportunity for to-and-fro debate. Given the huge increase in delegate numbers, there might be a case to revise the format. On the other hand, many delegates had opportunities to raise the issues of most concern to themselves not just to put questions the front bench.
Priority Area and Work Programme
The shadow front bench had identified a priority topic for each commission and in our case it is “A Fair Deal At Work: The future of work”. This is a broad topic and the commission discussed how to focus on a few key aspects. It was agreed to look at a sequence of questions:
- What are the future sectors which will provide high quality employment in the future?
- What policies are needed to promote these sectors?
- What resources are needed (reform of finance and tax policy)?
- What are the implications for ownership?
Future meetings should focus an these questions. To start off, John Mc Donnell proposed to organise a briefing by the economic advisors leading into a discussion on identifying future sectors.
The commission spent time reviewing the submissions received from CLPs and individual members. We would like to see more CLPs making submissions based on their own policy discussions. We felt that it was necessary to reassure members that submissions from members are taken seriously and that there is a channel from submissions to the Joint Policy Committee and front bench teams.
We had an initial discussion on how the work of the NPF could be improved as part of the Democracy Review. Discussion focused on how the work of the NPF could be more open to CLPs with more contact between NPF members and CLPs and better use of social media. We asked for a discussion on this topic at the NPF meeting in February.
The meeting on 15 January will have presentations on the future economy including from Graham Turner the consultant leading research for the treasury team. This will lead to discussion on the sectors likely to provide future jobs.