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.
*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