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The Government yesterday unveiled its plan to adapt employment practices to the changing world of work, addressing the needs of new, emerging business models and of those workers on zero-hours contracts or employed via agencies.
This much-anticipated plan comes on the back of last year’s Taylor Review and marks important progress for workers and companies up and down the country. Indeed, the Government will take forward most of the recommendations outlined in the review, granting better employment rights to those in insecure work and/or in the gig economy.
However, while yesterday’s publication sets a clear, much-needed and timely national framework for good work, it mostly neglects the spatial dimension in which these issues play out and this could backfire on the Government and its attempt to improve the quality of work for people up and down the country.
Over the coming months, we will be looking in more detail at some of the issues related to self-employment, how it plays out across the country and what the implications are for central and local government, but here are three immediate reflections on the Government’s response to the Review.
One of the positive outcomes of the Government’s response to the Taylor Review is the introduction of a metric to assess quality of work in the UK labour market to be overseen by the Industrial Strategy Council .
As a partner in the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, Centre for Cities welcomes this announcement, in particular in relation to the opportunity to understand what works for better work progression and quality of work.
However, when it comes to good work, it is important for the Council to think about how to measure it, what it means in different places and how to include success features that are not necessarily monetary in nature, such as increased confidence and better work-life balance. It is also particularly important for the Council to acknowledge that different labour markets affect the quality of work in different ways and that each of them needs their own vision of what success looks like.
Back when the Taylor Review was published, we blogged about how the issues the review was trying to address play out very differently across the country. Insecure work and low pay go hand in hand and play a much bigger role in cities outside the Greater South East.
Yet, not only does the Government response fail to acknowledge this, it also disregards the link between the economic performance of a place and the availability of good work for those who live there.
The quality of work reflects the strength of an economy and, while it is important to think about how to better enforce employment rights, ultimately it is the ability of places to grow and create new job opportunities that affect their ability to create good work. This is not a secondary point: it is something the Government really needs to address if it wants to see growth and good work up and down the country.
Another major thing the Government fails to acknowledge in its response is that cities can play a leading role in the delivery of good work.
While a national framework is needed, successful implementation is better delivered at the local level. Yet, local areas – and not even all of them – get mentioned only once in the Government response, in relation to the role they can play in promoting health and wellbeing at work.
Most individuals live and work in one place, and most of the time that is a city. Cities are in the unique position to understand the needs of their people and businesses and implement measures in a way that is efficient for their local area. This is not only true with regards to health and wellbeing at work. It is true for skills too.
While the Government develops T-levels, the National Retraining Scheme and all the other measures it outlines in the review, they must also ensure cities are given the flexibility to approach these issues in the most appropriate way for their local area. Allowing cities to have this flexibility would help them increase their productivity, benefiting people up and down the country and the nation as a whole.
While the world of work is changing everywhere in the country and it is imperative to have a national framework addressing these changes, the Government’s response fails to acknowledge that the UK is a combination of very different labour markets, each with its own different strengths and weaknesses that will very likely affect the Government’s ability to provide everyone with the good work the Taylor Review rightly seeks to deliver.
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