Over three weeks in October 2023, the CIPD engaged with politicians and policy professionals across the party conferences of the UK’s three main political parties.

Our engagement with the UK and devolved governments takes place all year round on a range of issues from UK skills policy, to pay gap reporting, to flexible working. In doing so we always seek to work cross-party and the party conferences offer a key moment for engaging directly with the UK’s leading political parties on public policy. These conferences can also help us to gauge the mood of each of the parties on important issues.

Liberal Democrats conference

At the Lib Dem conference, we discussed policies that can support small businesses to improve their recruitment and productivity. 

The roundtable discussion was chaired by Christine Jardine, the Lib Dem spokesperson for Women and Equalities and the Cabinet Office. We were joined by other business bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Venture Capital Association (BVCA).

The roundtable allowed us to articulate some of our priority policies in this area, while the wider conference approved a few key Lib Dem policies that reflect some of the CIPD’s policy positions, such as their plans to push for six weeks paternity leave.

Conservative conference

At the Conservative Party conference, we hosted an event on flexible working with the Conservative-leaning think tank, Bright Blue, with Matt Warman MP, Chair of the Future of Work APPG, the CIPD’s Claire McCartney, Helen Bradbury from E.ON and Neil Carberry from the REC. 

We had an interesting discussion, with some real insights on how flexible working can help businesses attract talent and widen labour market participation.

It was also useful to hear thoughts on the Apprenticeship Levy from Robert Halfon MP, across several events at the conference, as well as understand more about government priorities on skills in tech and AI from Minister for London Paul Scully MP at an event with TechUK. We were also able to discuss skills and tech policy in more detail at a roundtable event with former DSIT Secretary of State Chloe Smith MP.

Given CIPD’s focus on flexible working at this year’s conference, it was particularly heartening to hear the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Tom Pursglove, make a strong case for the importance of flexible working and ‘Flex from first’ as part of supporting more people into work, at an event with Scope.

Labour conference

The Labour Party conference saw the largest presence from business I've seen in a long time. The CIPD held an event with the New Statesman where our Chief Executive Peter Cheese discussed flexible working for frontline workers with Shadow Employment Minister Alison McGovern MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Stephen Timms MP. Some great insights on frontline workers were also shared by Leigh Lafever-Ayer from Enterprise.

Stephen Timms kicked off his speech by quoting CIPD research and Alison McGovern spoke enthusiastically about flexible working. She also talked about her wider plans for bringing change to the Department for Work and Pensions and was extremely complimentary in her support for the CIPD from her previous work with us.

We were also able to have a thoughtful discussion at our standing room only panel event with Josh Simons and Labour Together. CIPD Senior Policy Adviser Lizzie Crowley laid out the need for an industrial strategy for the everyday economy and a reform of the UK skills system to help drive growth and productivity. The discussion with Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds MP, former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Lindsay Walter from Third Way was wide-ranging and showed the clear need for a renewed UK industrial strategy.

Conferences summary

Across the conferences, there was a real sense that Labour MPs and shadow ministers in particular, were keen to engage and be seen to engage with business at every opportunity. While there was less direct engagement with Conservative ministers, it was still extremely useful for us to have some detailed policy discussions and get a sense of the party’s mood on key policy areas.

Importantly, at both the Labour and Conservative conferences, we were able to showcase the importance of the people profession by giving a platform to senior people directors from E.ON and Enterprise to discuss how flexible working is improving recruitment, retention and ultimately productivity in their organisations.

We were also able to use the opportunity to meet with some of our key stakeholders including leading politicians from the devolved nations, as well as some high-profile trade union leaders, businesses and campaign organisations. We look forward to being able to update our members again on some of the work we have coming up following some of the meetings across the three conferences.

About the author

Carl Quilliam, Public Affairs Manager

Carl leads our engagement with the UK government, working to inform policy and legislation that champions better work and working lives. 

As our Public Affairs Manager, he provides evidence to Parliamentary committees, supports our work responding to government consultations and inquiries and engages with ministers, civil servants and others.

He is an experienced public affairs professional, with more than 15 years’ experience. He has advised public and private sector organisations on strategy, policy and public affairs. Carl also has direct experience of front-line politics, as a former staffer for a political party and a former elected councillor.

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