Blog: REC reports from Lib Dem Conference

Zero-hour contracts, gender equality, the government’s approach to skills development and Brexit were all hot button topics at this week’s Lib Dem conference.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable

Richard Sagar, policy adviser at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, reports from the Liberal Democrats Party Conference for Recruiter.co.uk.

It’s that time of year again, as party conference season officially gets underway. The REC will have a presence at all the major party conferences, but first up was the Liberal Democrats conference in sunny (at least partially) Bournemouth.

Three big themes came out of the conference, which should be of interest to recruiters.

The flexible jobs market

At a fringe event on the ‘Great Jobs Agenda’, deputy leader and former employment minister Jo Swinson MP gave a nuanced view on zero-hours contracts, saying they work very well for a lot of people. 

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said there should be greater importance given to promoting gender equality in the workplace via opportunities for flexible working for both men and women, in combination with more accessible and less expensive childcare. 

The REC’s director of policy Tom Hadley will be speaking at the same event at the Labour party conference alongside Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

Tackling the skills gap 

At a Local Government Association event on the skills and employability there was widespread agreement that the government’s current approach to skills was not suitable for the contemporary jobs market. 

Better careers advice is needed, and should be achieved by providing more connection between local employers and with schools. This would help to provide a more accurate understanding of the jobs market among young people. 

One suggested solution, which received unanimous support from the panel, was that funds from the Apprenticeship Levy should be used to enhance skills throughout the workforce. The REC has long called for the Apprenticeship Levy to become a broader skills levy.

Post-Brexit immigration 

Brexit and migration was given a key focus at an event on the future of food and farming, run by the National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation. Lib Dem spokesperson for Brexit, the Rt Hon Tom Brake, suggested that future staffing needs would be the biggest challenge for Britain’s food and farming post-Brexit. 

As the REC’s recent report 'Building the post-Brexit immigration system' outlines, the UK needs an evidence-based immigration system once we leave the EU, which recognises the value and contribution of EU workers of all skills levels.

Party leader Vince Cable’s closing speech was light on policy, but emphasised the message that the Liberal Democrats are the “only real undiluted pro-European party”. The Lib Dems are not only calling for the UK to remain in the single market and customs union to help safeguard jobs and trade, but Cable also re-iterated calls for a further referendum to decide whether the UK should actually leave the European Union.

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