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The Industry Forum Ltd, 20 St Andrew Street, EC4A 3AG, London

The critical importance of managing the business of the House of Commons is not widely understood. Should Labour win the coming general election, this vital role would likely fall to the current Shadow Leader of the House, Lucy Powell. So, this week Lucy Powell, clearly relishing the prospect, led a wide-ranging Industry Forum roundtable on how she would approach this challenge. An incoming reformist government would clearly have a lot of work to do in rapidly turning policies into draft bills and then legislation. In addition, there are major challenges for big cross-departmental projects or missions which are currently not well managed by the Cabinet Office. It is important to restore standards in public life and restore controls on the executive exercised by, for example, the select committees. Large issues such as House of Lords reform will also need to be considered. Bearing in mind the current poor fiscal situation all changes will need to be accomplished without the luxury of generous budgets. The business audience at the roundtable could fully appreciate these constraints; the potential bonus for Lucy Powell and Labour is that they also indicated that clear and consistent plans and policies would be valuable to business and could be the key to unlocking private investment in the UK. This meeting was hosted by Workday a leading provider of cloud based financial and personnel management services.

‘Tackling our immigration issues’ was the topic of the recent Industry Forum expert roundtable led by Stephen Kinnock MP, Shadow Minister for Immigration. The meeting was sponsored by Lowick a leading reputation management and public affairs consultancy closely aligned with Labour. Kevin McKeever the founder and managing director of Lowick welcomed guests to their new offices close to Tate Modern. Stephen Kinnock identified the need for an immigration system that delivers for the economy and builds social cohesion. The approach of a Labour government would focus equally on compassion and control. The discussion, with people from business and academia, ranged across current bureaucratic failings in providing statistics and processing asylum seekers, the serious skills shortages arising from the end of free movement after Brexit, and the desirability to take the heat out of the current debate. It is clearly necessary to concentrate on improving home office efficiency and unifying border control resources to combat people smuggling. Reducing the backlog of asylum seekers and the cost of housing them would have the major benefit of restoring much of the foreign aid budget to help with reducing some of the problems that lead to asylum applications. In summary, systematically addressing the root problems looks like the most promising way to tackle UK immigration issues. It would be welcomed by UK business and academia.

Joining us for an Industry Forum roundtable hosted by Workday, in March, the Rt Hon Lord Maude of Horsham, argued that addressing Civil Service governance and accountability shortcomings should be a top priority for the new, post general election, UK Government. From his government commissioned ‘Independent Review of the Governance and Accountability of the Civil Service’, he quoted some key findings:

The significance of these points, coming from a consummate Westminster insider with experience at the top levels of government and business, was not lost on those attending. It became clear that for the UK to tackle its many challenges and become an agile, prosperous State with good public services, Lord Maude’s findings need to be addressed as a bi-partisan priority.

The climate crisis, the pandemic, the economic crisis, and new technologies are all transforming requirements for UK public and private transport. Furthermore, the cancellation of the Manchester leg of HS2 and underfunding of road maintenance have made road transport a central issue for UK business, and society as a whole. There is an urgent need to have clarity on planning for road transport including road funding and pricing, rollout of electric charging points and the control of pollution in urban areas. Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Transport (Roads) Minister will lead a roundtable on ‘Key issues for UK road transport’.

Climate change is having a profound impact on the water sector. It is raising costs and causing wider concerns for businesses and householders alike. Water supplies, flood planning and water pollution are all examples of matters that require long-term planning and investment. Ruth Jones MP, Shadow Minister for Environmental Protection will lead a roundtable to discuss such issues.

The government, and particularly the Treasury, prioritises budgetary control but too often, once initial contracts have been awarded, costs escalate without adequate cost or quality control. One cause may be that civil service cuts have left departments without the skills and experience needed to deal with private sector suppliers. Whatever the cause, however, it is clear that improving government performance on procurement, and ensuring suppliers deliver good value for money, would bring big benefits. Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee, who has extensive experience of overseeing public expenditure will lead a discussion on how government procurement could be improved to provide better value for money.