Blog: REC reports from Conservative Party Conference

Continuing the series of Recruitment & Employment Confederation blogs from this year’s major political party conferences, REC policy team leader Philip Campbell reports from the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

While much of the media attention of the Conservative Party Conference was on tickly coughs, leadership intrigue and Katie Hopkins in a wedding dress, the real policy discussions were taking place at ‘fringe’ events. 

These were a great platform for positioning our industry's voice on key areas like immigration, skills, social mobility and the future of jobs, while engaging with the highest levels of government, including a brief audience with the Chancellor.

Discussing post-Brexit immigration
We held our own fringe session this year, focusing on post-Brexit immigration policy and chaired by journalist Sarah Johnson, in association with think tank Bright Blue. REC chief executive Kevin Green was joined by influential panellists, including Stephen Crabb MP, journalist and author Liam Halligan, and economists Vicky Price and Frances Coppola.

Following our recent report ‘Ready, willing and able? Can the UK labour force meet demand after Brexit?’, there was a lively discussion on whether UK nationals will be able to fill the roles that many EU nationals currently do. There was broad consensus that the tens of thousands target is not helpful and that we need to maintain access to overseas workers across a range of sectors.

MP Stephen Crabb underlined that this need “is not limited to high-end skills” and Kevin Green argued that “the idea that it will be easy to find people in the UK to fill low-skilled jobs is not based on data”.

Disability roundtable 
REC director of policy Tom Hadley was invited to a roundtable with the minister for disabled people Penny Mordaunt, which provided a further opportunity to underline the role of recruiters in driving the disability and wider inclusion agenda. This remains a core priority for government and is an opportunity for recruiters to showcase their work in this area.

Further highlights
Elsewhere, we got confirmation that the government will publish White Papers on immigration and industrial strategy, which we will respond to. Home secretary Amber Rudd highlighted her commitment to working with business on a new immigration system; business secretary Greg Clark praised the UK as the jobs capital of the EU; and secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt committed to the biggest increase in nurse training in the history of the NHS.

This year the REC co-hosted the Enterprise Forum, which gave us an opportunity to engage directly with Chancellor Philip Hammond. Addressing the forum, the chancellor argued “there had never been a more important time for government to work in partnership with business”. 

That sentiment was echoed by Prime Minister Theresa May in her own speech and marks a positive change of approach from last year’s conference. We will look to build on this in our forthcoming discussions with ministers and government departments. 

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