Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union
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Prospect’s manifesto for good work: why politicians must act

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

All is not well in the world of work, despite the economic recovery. GDP has only just returned to the 2008 pre-recession level. Productivity and real wages have both fallen, with employment growth mainly in low-paid service sectors.

As a politically independent trade union, Prospect does not tell members how to vote. But in the run-up to the election, we believe any political party aspiring to government should have a compelling vision of what good work looks like, as well as a programme to deliver it.

That’s why we have drawn up a manifesto of ideas spelling out what good work is, and what politicians need to do.

The union consulted with its members across the public and private sectors, and has conducted dialogue with employers, professional bodies and other labour market experts. We would like to hear more politicians addressing this core agenda. Good work should not be optional and key components should include:

The UK has one of the worst records among OECD countries for using skills at work effectively. The quality of working life continues to deteriorate, both in the public and private sectors, with rising levels of stress and mental ill-health.

People want to do work that is enjoyable, stretching and fulfilling, and they want their families and communities to have these opportunities, too. When Prospect consulted its own members, people identified four priorities for improvement:

  • giving employees a voice
  • fair pay and reward
  • better management of change
  • engagement and respect of employees.

As pointed out by think tank The Smith Institute, which is conducting its own inquiry into making work better, over the last 30 years “there has been a decline in the level of control people experience at work, the extent of their ability to participate (both individually and collectively) in decision-making processes and a consequent decline in the level of trust in senior managers”.

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The same organisation has found that worker voice in the UK is at a woeful level – one of the poorest in Europe. Only Lithuania is worse.

Low pay and zero-hours contracts are totemic issues, and parties’ policies on these issues provide a clear signal of political values and motivation.

But more is necessary. The world of work is complex and diverse. A coherent and comprehensive policy framework is needed to complement responses to particular issues.

Politicians who think that they already have policies to underpin a good work culture should shout now, because our members certainly haven’t yet heard them. Frankly, all parties have more to do.

For example, we want politicians to commit to reforming corporate governance to give greater emphasis to and accountability for the long-term implications of decision-making.

The government as an employer should lead by example in relation to its own directly employed staff. Public procurement policies must improve supply chain practices, including investment in high quality training and skills and a decent working environment.

We want politicians to work with government departments, companies and other stakeholders to devise measures of good work; give them equal weight to the financial metrics that currently predominate; and mandate corporate reporting on this basis.

We would also like to see a commitment to legislating for works councils, which help promote genuine collaboration and consultation on strategic decisions.

We invite all politicians to set out their vision of a good workplace and a good job, and to be prepared to debate that vision in public.

There are two compelling reasons why they should do so: first, Britain needs more good jobs in high-performing workplaces to rebalance the economy. Second, driving positive change at work is without doubt a vote-winning agenda.

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

Photo: Getty
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Part II: Is the Government fulfilling its role in the fight against cancer?

In the second in her series of interviews with leading politicians, Larushka Mellor, asks Iain Wright MP, “Is the government fulfilling its role in the fight against cancer?”

The independent cancer taskforce published its 5-year strategy for cancer with a number of recommendations, in July 2015.  What should the government do to ensure the biggest challenges contained within it are attainable?

The scale of the challenge is apparent. I think we should be as bold and ambitious as possible: scientists, clinicians, patients, the general public and politicians all working together for a single goal: to eliminate cancer within a generation, and Britain at the forefront of this.

The taskforce’s recommendations are achievable and the Government needs to act upon them. Patient experience has to be prioritised and this is difficult when NHS cancer services are under unprecedented pressure and the Government far too often provides contradictory messages. The Department of Health must provide the NHS with the resources and the long-term, holistic stability to allow Trusts to invest in state-of-the-art equipment.  The NHS needs to emphasise prevention and early detection too, but the risk is that under greater financial and workforce pressure, cancer services will be forced to firefight.

The Office of Life Sciences, headed up by George Freeman MP was created as the government’s bridge linking science and innovation with the work of the health service. You have recently taken on the role of Chair of the BIS Select Committee, why is the connection between R&D investment, industry, life sciences and the NHS important for fighting cancer?

This is a health and moral agenda, but I think we shouldn’t shy away from it being an economic and industrial one too. Britain is very strong in life sciences: our unique blend of excellent science and research institutions, world class pharmaceutical and med tech companies and the amazing NHS provides us with an unmatched ecosystem to develop the treatments of the future.

I want our country to be able to be supreme in every aspect of the fight against cancer: inventing the technology and drugs to treat it successfully, manufacturing those things here in the UK and giving NHS patients early access to the most innovative and effective treatments. That means maintaining and expanding the science budget, encouraging life sciences companies to locate here, and giving certainty to NHS funding to allow it to invest in more effective treatments for the long term.

The Office of Life Sciences (OLS) is an important part of that institutional architecture. It can provide the long-term certainty to allow treatments to be devised, researched and then brought to market. Research, development and application of treatments for cancer take longer than any single parliament, and the OLS should be able to provide that confidence over several decades. I’m pleased that George Freeman is leading this: his knowledge, experience and passion for life sciences makes him the best possible Minister in this field – if we have to have a Tory Government, at least some comfort can be derived from this.

However, there remain big concerns. The Innovation, Health and Wealth agenda designed to accelerate adoption of new treatments and technology in the NHS, now seems forgotten, and is an example of a long-standing weakness of this Government: a flurry of announcements and initiatives at the expense of successful implementation and delivery. George Freeman needs to tackle this and we on the Select Committee will scrutinise this.   

NICE and NHS England are working on a sustainable solution to the cancer drug fund (CDF) after it is due to end in April 2016; what confidence do you have in the progress they are making towards this and what role can you and your colleagues play to ensure there is continuity of access to oncology medicines after April?

This is a disturbing example of Government failing to provide the coherence and stability needed in this vital field, sending out the message that cancer drugs policy and provision is ad hoc and devoid of any sort of certainty. The recent delisting of several drugs from the CDF reinforces that sense of chaos, incoherence and inconsistency and undermines confidence for life sciences companies, research institutions and – most worryingly – those patients undergoing treatment. This needs to be tackled as quickly as possible to give reassurance. Parliament can obviously play a role in this but I hope we can go further. I want to see us widen provision to improve access to radiotherapy and surgery too.

 Your constituency of Hartlepool has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country; what do you see as the biggest challenge to improve cancer outcomes over the next few years?

Our high incidence of cancer is both because of our industrial legacy and our lifestyles that increases the risk of developing cancer, particularly smoking. Smoking cessation clinics have been very successful in Hartlepool and this approach needs to continue. I urge the Government to implement policies that would help my constituents and others across the country, such as a one-week cancer test guarantee, improved screening programmes, and better access to and encouragement for people to see their GP.

Iain Wright is the Labour MP for Hartlepool and the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee.

Larushka Mellor is the Head of Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Merck Serono​.