Revealed! My cunning plan for the Modern Employment Review - RSA

Revealed! My cunning plan for the Modern Employment Review

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  • Creative economy
  • Employment
  • Leadership

Tomorrow is a big day for the Review of Modern Employment I am chairing for the Prime Minister.

The Google campus London is the first of a series of ten sites across the UK for visits which will combine meeting local people and organisations in the morning and taking evidence in the afternoon. There will also be a fair amount of newspaper coverage (although I’m writing this without knowing what it will say).

The way I am conducting the Review reflects three judgements. I thought RSA Fellows and the other occasional readers of this blog might be interested to know why I have made them.

First, I have decided to be as open as possible about the issues we are debating in the Review team*. So you may read that the Review is focussing on tackling exploitation, achieving greater clarity and exploring the underlying incentives that drive certain labour market practices. There may also be speculation about some of the specific ideas we are examining. Because I have blogged and spoken about the Review, commentators may pick up on certain themes such as my own enthusiasm for strengthening employee voice in the workplace.

This approach could look as though I am trying to bounce Review colleagues into certain conclusions or, conversely, if some ideas that get floated don’t make it in to the final Review, it will look like I have been overruled. But these dangers are outweighed by the principled case for openness, the need to generate a healthy public debate about the issues and also the utility of getting a sense of whether our ideas are going to be largely supported or meet strong resistance.

Second, I am being ambitious. Whatever the specific recommendations of the Review I hope it might be seen as a turning point; the moment when public policy explicitly recognises that it is not just the quantity of work that matters but also its quality.     

The danger here is that I describe a lion and give birth to a mouse. In Government we used to talk about ‘under promising and over delivering’. Yet, while circumspection might be more advisable, if talking up the review gives it momentum this, for me, outweighs the risk that we end up disappointing.

Finally, I want to emphasise that this isn’t just about Government. If we want work – whether ‘modern’ or traditional -  to be fair and decent with scope for progression and fulfilment then we all have a role, as consumers and citizens as well as employers and workers. Most of all, given that any significant changes are bound to involve some risks and downsides, we need to encourage Government – which does, after all, have enough on its plate right now - to be clear and bold on our behalf. I am even toying with some concrete way in which we could test the public’s enthusiasm for better work ahead of the Review report.

The danger here is that I don’t get the reaction I am hoping for, or that asking people to sign up to good work is seen as empty posturing (the current Downing Street operation is rightly unenthusiastic about gesture politics). Yet, if the Review is going to lead to real change and not just a few headlines there needs to be a sense of public enthusiasm and this needs to be built up ahead of our final report.

So there you have it; my cunning plan. In a few months’ time I’ll either be republishing this post as an example of how being open and optimistic works or asking our digital team to bury it deep in the hidden recesses of the website.

Fingers crossed.          

*I have three well informed and thoughtful colleagues on the Review; employment lawyer Diane Nichol, Paul Broadbent, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and entrepreneur Greg Marsh as well, of course, as an impressive team of officials 

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  • I am certainly enthusiastic about the review but have realistic expectations about the double-edged nature of the outcomes. We at have been working on a digital solution for the self-employed to manage their business, expenses, tax and  financial wellness in one simple app. 

    Our worry is that the Government see this review as an opportunity to tax the self-employed seeing it as a victory for HMRC over the "tax dodgers" The reality is that Self-Employment is not an easy option for most; for me it was the only way I could find work again after the Credit Crisis and gave me the flexibility to be a kind of "stay-at-home" father and help to raise our children whilst my wife pursued a traditional career with the long hours & commute that Londoner's are growing accustomed to. 

    The self-employed waste over 50 days per year on admin, are more likely to be targeted by HMRC, have no insurance, sick benefits or even a pension provision (NEST & auto-enrollment do not support the self-employed). So no, Self-employment is not easy but it drives such innovation, aspiration and education that to kill it with aggressive policy would be a Pyrrhic victory. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss further. [email protected] 

  • Your review comes at exactly the right time in that the 'gig' economy is running up against the 'old' economy and like it or not the structure and focus of work is changing for good. On the one hand there are new companies such as Uber and Airbnb redefining how many sectors do business and on the other organisations like the RMT union (striking against driver-only trains) and President Trump (bringing back the old jobs for the 'rust-belt' states) seeking to preserve ways of working that have no future.  As with most things in life the truth lies somewhere between the two. Credit to Mrs May for setting up the review but more credit if she acts on your findings.

  • I'd be very interested to hear what indicators you end up agreeing on as being suitable to systematically measure changes in the size and scope of the 'gig economy' over the coming years - given that you can't really 'see it' from the ONS' aggregated data - according to that most new self-employed* people are professionals in their 40s and 50s, very different to your average uber-driver I imagine. (*

    Quantitatively this whole topic is also an interesting case study of a 'big-data challenge' - those gig companies must have terabytes of data, but would they let you have access? Otherwise I guess your stuck with independent surveys of members. It might actually be worth establishing such a survey which could be used over the coming decades to just to get basic information about demographics and average earnings of gig-workers - I don't think there's anything systematic in place at the moment, at least not according to Brinkley's 'In Search of the Gig Economy' (2016).

    To my mind you've got to at least suggest some ideas about how you might get valid quantitative data on gig-work so as to be able to estimate its potential impact on tax revenues - and I imagine this would be especially challenging in a global era where some higher-end gig-workers probably don't pay tax - global 'digital nomads, and sex-workers for example, and would you include the later in the study - let's face it, that was the first sector to get technologically gigged, and it must include thousands of people in the UK.

    Another problem with measuring gig-evolution is of course the fact that some sectors have been thoroughly 'gigged' already (transport/ accommodation) while others could become rapidly gigged over the next decade (education maybe), how you factor that in to the review without it descending into the fantasy realms of futurology I've no idea. 

  • Would love to hear more Matthew, do you have a list of the other sites you plan to visit?

  • Look forward to reading- certainly agree about the need for a ambition, and for employee engagement.

    You may be interested in my latest blog trying to make a case for pay ratios and such...

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