The business, innovation and skills select committee, which I sit on, has just published its report into George Osborne’s much-hyped Productivity Plan which he unveiled last summer. Unfortunately like so many of the chancellor’s grand announcements, once you look at it in more detail, you find it does not really add up …
When I first read the document, I was struck by how vague it was on how we would measure if the government was succeeding in the aims of the plan and who was accountable for it. At the committee sessions, both Treasury and business ministers refused to reveal who was responsible for making the plan a success! If the government want to be taken seriously on tackling our productivity crisis, they must publish a follow-up document to the plan with clear details of how each proposal will be implemented and how success against that target can be measured.
Apprenticeships are also cited as a key part of the government’s productivity agenda. While ministers were happy to set a target of three million apprenticeships to be created over the parliament there is no real consultation with industry or the employers they expect to take on these apprentices. They also refused to set any targets relating to the qualification level they want to see them created at. While there is of course value to the opportunities offered by Level 2 apprenticeships, it is those at Level 3 and above which will really help to tackle our growing skills shortage and improve our economic productivity. By failing to set any targets at all regarding the level of these new apprenticeships, the government risks prioritising quantity over quality and undermining the brand.
But to me the biggest weakness of the Productivity Plan was the failure to include a single reference to the United Kingdom’s four and half million self-employed workers in the 88-page document. Given it is predicted that by 2019 more people will be self-employed than working in the public sector, this is a major failure of government.
My own constituency of Hove and Portslade is home to a thriving community of self-employed people, dynamic entrepreneurs and precisely the sort of people we as a country should be encouraging to do business. Many of these will go on to set up limited companies and become creators of employment in the own right, driving their local economies forward. Yet this government has given no consideration of how we can help them with their productivity needs. We should be looking at how we can help them get the skills they need to expand their businesses.
The weaknesses that run throughout the plan opens up a space for Labour to be the party of the self-employed and champion their interests. In doing so, we can start to reach out to the voters who simply felt Labour was not for them in 2015 and are absolutely essential for us to win over in order to win come 2020.
Peter Kyle is member of parliament for Hove and Portslade. He tweets @PeterKyle
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