Imagine going to the gym and having an hour to get your workout done. But, the equipment is outdated, and no one has properly trained you on how to use it; as a result you’ve put the hour in, but feel your time could have been better used.
Whilst a crude analogy for the UK economy, the point is we want to get fit for the challenges ahead but need to think about how we are going about it. And the levers we pull and the choices we make, really need thinking about, or it’s a lot of pain for little gain.
The government faces the same puzzle. And on Monday we will hear how it is going to attempt to solve the puzzle through their long-awaited industrial strategy.
In simple terms ‘productivity’ is the amount of work produced either per hour or per worker. This measure is crucial to the economy because it has a direct impact on the salaries we are paid – whether you work in the public or private sector.
UK output has flat-lined in recent years and we don’t compare well to other advanced economies. This also informs the debate about the type of jobs the UK economy creates; that is number over quality? Rather than putting temporary patches over areas that have needed care and attention for years, the government must deliver durable solutions.
Prospect’s message to the government is: listen to UK workers and focus on the areas that will prepare the country for the future.
We need a commitment to innovation. The budget delivered an extra £2.3 billion Research & Development (R&D) funding, which of course we welcome. But, the funding must be directed to the right places. We have seen the devastation caused by cuts to the public sector; the industrial strategy is a chance to remedy this. Channelling public sector innovation in a sustainable way to shoulder risk and support imagination in business.
Worker voices must be listened to. There is a huge amount of evidence that shows that unionised workforces lose less days to work-related injuries, ill-health, have a lower staff turnover – and crucially provide training. The industrial strategy needs to enshrine a social partnership approach which gives unions, and the workers they represent, a strong voice. We need a renewed commitment to the value of collective bargaining, its redistributive effects, and the order it brings to employee relations. A starting point would be sectoral industrial councils with a defined role for unions as followed by a positive boost to collective bargaining and engagement.
There must be specific deals for areas where we know there is a skills crisis. In the budget the government committed to a national retraining scheme to boost digital skills, which is desperately needed. But, Prospect is also aware that we need a firm commitment to skills training in science, energy and nuclear technology. Particularly as we continue in a climate of political uncertainty – we must see smart, focussed commitments on these areas.
By getting the Industrial Strategy right the UK will have a chance of getting into shape for the challenges it has ahead of it.
Mike Clancy is General Secretary of Prospect, a union representing a 140,000 professionals, working in both public services and in the private sector