One of the best short letters of the last week was in “ The Guardian “. That letter read [from memory] :
“ How will the Tories be able to write policy statements when they have banned cigarettes”.
For all political parties conference speeches can be initially exciting, and at a later date become potentially problematic <> dangerous [ & that can well be on a continuum ].
It happens with all parties and on numerous occasions , particularly in contemporary times , when instant recall and replay is available to all of us through social media .
Start with the disaster of last week when the current Prime Minister , in cancelling the HS2 extension to Manchester , rolled out a list of other smaller scale transport projects that ‘WILL’ [ his word, repeated a lot ] be a replacement for the Birmingham – Manchester line. Listening at the time , if you had a ready reckoner to hand , or held data in your head, you would have thought …. that’s a lot of rail , concrete, and tarmac for £36 Bn . You might also have liked him to explain – how the day before Rishi Sunak spoke his Chancellor asked us why our projects were inclined to be 10x more expensive than in France.
Why worry , because by this week both the Transport Secretary and later the Prime Minister explained all. That list of rails in umpteen places and road improvements in ….Somerset are not ‘will’ projects but ‘might be ‘ non-projects .
These promised ‘Northern’ [of England ] improvements have now been firmly placed in what in the trade is known as the ‘Manana’ section of his Excel capital projects spread sheet.
Similar hostages to fortune were available to those who followed the Labour Conference . Let’s examine just two .
Angela Rayner promised a more equitable treatment of new workers from ‘Day one ‘ of employment start , though with some qualification about probationary periods . It is entirely possible to share the underlying moral force and motivation behind this, but it may prove extremely hard to implement . Take one aspect as an example ‘ ‘flexible working’ which every [longer serving ] employee is entitled to request , and that request must be considered seriously by the employer and responded to .
Our organisation advertises in some manner for somebody to staff reception , answer phones and respond to initial mails , from , say 0800 to 1600. We find an apparently capable , experienced, and personable candidate , offer the post , with a start in 1 week. The person arrives at 0755 on the Monday , is welcomed , shown the facilities etc . They ask to speak to the manager and request flexible working – proposing a commensurate downward salary adjustment – with hours from 0900 to 1530.
How do we as an organisation react ? How would you as a superior react , if that was your role? Is your view of their suitability rocked [ even slightly ]? Do you accept their proposal or reject it? How do you feel about them ? Would you feel [ and respond ] differently if they had already been a good employee for six months , a year, two years? I think you and we would . Day one is ambitious, for many reasons .
For Scotland , Anas Sarwar promised on Sunday Politics ‘meaningful reform ‘ for the health service , partially achieved through reducing the number of health boards . This would enable us to have “…fewer managers, fewer chief executives and more doctors and nurses…”. We might all benefit from that – if it were to happen . There are some clear problems though , not in merging health boards ; that can be done by a simple ministerial/parliamentary procedure. The problem arises in what a new Scottish Government might do with those surplus managers and chief executives, and it does have to be said that there are arguments that argue health here is ‘under ‘ managed actually. Unless those surplus people are willing to retrain as doctors and nurses there must be a personnel outcome to their jobs no longer being required .There is currently a government commitment that there is no compulsory redundancy amongst health service employees. The consequence of that is that previous re-organisations [ and there have been some under the current and previous Scottish Governments ] have seen people just sit tight and ultimately relied on buying people out or shuffling them round into other roles .
So , those conference or conference adjacent policy statements are often rather more like ‘announcables’ crafted for a speech or media appearance that tend to crumble in implementation .