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

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Putting energy consumers at the heart of action against global warming

By Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive Smart Energy GB.

At the end of this month, representatives from more than 190 nations will gather in Paris to try to reach a new global agreement on talking climate change.

Heads of government will make solemn promises to curb greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to avoid the most dangerous increases in world temperature.

These commitments, though, will only be as good as the technological plans each nation has to meet their targets.

Economic growth and increased living standards typically require more energy, unless ways can be found to use existing supplies more efficiently.

As leading expert Dieter Helm argues in a new paper for Smart Energy GB: “without massive technical change, global warming cannot be cracked”.

Smart meters are an important part of the solution to climate change, according to Professor Helm.

This month, leading policy makers, environmentalists and energy experts will be gathering for our Smarter Britain, Smarter Environment event in London.

The meeting will discuss the role of smart technology in tackling climate change.

Smart meters will be offered to every home and microbusiness in Britain by 2020. In all around 53 million new gas and electricity meters will be installed.

This roll-out, unprecedented in its scale and ambition, is part of a profound set of changes to the energy market over the coming years.

There will be great focus in Paris on the way in which our energy is generated, and whether power comes from renewables, nuclear, shale, oil or coal.

But just as critical is the way in which energy is consumed by millions of homes and small businesses.

This is the vitally important “demand side” of the energy transformation that is currently underway.

Smart meters provide fast and accurate data on energy use of households.

For the first time, bill-payers are able to see exactly how much their electricity and gas use is costing in pounds and pence.

Estimated bills and inaccurate meter readings are fortunately being consigned to history.

Households are starting to engage with their energy needs much more effectively and consistently.

People can see – almost in real time – how they can save money by changing the ways they use electricity and gas.

New tariffs will, in future, also allow bill-payers to shift their most intensive energy use to times for example at the weekend or overnight when costs are lower. 

But, more than this, smart meters are enabling a much wider system-wide transformation of energy transmission.

The information from millions of homes and businesses can be used to match supply and demand more efficiently at the city and national level, as part of the “smart grid”.

This is absolutely essential, if we are to rely more on renewable sources of energy.

Solar and wind energy are intermittent. The most abundant supplies are rarely produced exactly where and when they are most needed.

So better ways must be developed to store energy and distribute it over larger areas – and even between nations.

Smart technology can also help at the very local level, by supporting the decentralisation of electricity generation.

The new meters will allow households to know exactly how much energy - in pounds and pence – their solar panels or turbines are producing.

With greater electrification (of heating, appliances and transport), these challenges become even more relevant.

If millions of people come home and plug in their electric cars at 6pm, the energy systems of the future must be able to cope.

These changes are genuinely exciting.

Smart technology not only provides environmentally friendly answers, but also supports products that consumers really want.

Consumer engagement with energy via smart meters is now providing an opportunity to bring action on climate change into our homes.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The end of Europe - test