John Prescott’s left jab has made most news, with Oliver Letwin’s
disappearance after "aspiring" to £20bn of tax cuts the prime policy
gaffe. Tony Blair has hinted darkly at a new radicalism about public service
delivery, but otherwise the election has not added much to our stock of
knowledge. Whether education or crime, the issues are tediously familiar. And
if we were hoping that work might be talked about, think again.
It is this omission that has prompted our own small effort to make an impact
on the agenda. The Industrial Society’s manifesto, published last week, takes
making work better as its theme. The quality of work should be a central
election issue, together with health, education and taxation. Work is, of
course, a source of income; but it is also where we act on the world, the route
to our personal development and the site of many of our most important social
interactions. How work is organised is thus of fundamental importance to every
Better work, increased economic competitiveness, higher levels of
productivity and more and better jobs all go hand-in-hand. Yet the British work
badly. Our productivity is too low. We use our time inefficiently and uncreatively.
Too many of our companies do not husband or respect their human resources as
well as they could, nor accept that it increasingly matters how a pound of
profit is made. Inequalities in the treatment of women, older workers and
ethnic minorities disfigure too many British workplaces. Our skills are
inadequate. Unemployment and under-employment, despite the strides made, remain
too high and are too frequently concentrated in increasingly detached ghettos
in our major towns and cities. Work that is voluntary, community-based or in
the home is deemed valueless. So what do we want the new Government to do?
A list of our specific, detailed recommendations can be found in our
manifesto (www.indsoc.co.uk) but, in essence, the new Government needs to do three
fundamental things. First, to raise people’s aspirations by developing
world-class primary, secondary, tertiary and workplace education and learning
capabilities. Second, it needs to encourage a climate that creates and nurtures
the "just companies" that care about the how as much as the how much
when it comes to profits – and our ideas range from a new companies act to
improved information and consultation procedures.
Finally, the new Government needs to encourage workplaces that include
rather than discriminate across the range of issues – age, gender, disability,
ethnic background. There is a case for a standing Discrimination Commission, a
watchdog for all acts of discrimination.
The message on work is that quality is as important as quantity. We need
more employment, but also meaningful employment. The two must go hand in hand.
Chief executive, the Industrial Society