It’s that time of year again, just as we all return from those long deserved breaks, long walks, lying on the beach and catching up with the reading list, it’s time to get on our travels again as the party conference season is almost upon us.
The days of touring the seaside towns beginning with B are now a distant memory as all the parties have moved inland and swap the big cities of Manchester (Conservatives), Birmingham (Lib Dems) and Liverpool (Labour). As always it promises to be an interesting time. All the parties are at an interesting stage of their development, Ed Miliband on his first leader’s speech proper and looking to see if Labour can benefit from the impact of spending cuts and the end of the post-honeymoon period for the Government. The Prime Minister and the Conservatives will be looking to demonstrate their achievements of their first year in office and outline plans to show they have moment going into the new Parliamentary year and Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems will want to put the initial rumbles of discontent and difficult polls earlier in the year and demonstrate what they have achieved with their first taste of power in modern times.
For unions, education providers and the third sector this is a time to corner not only the minsters and politicians but the party activists too, the people who will bend the ear of the MPs back in their constituencies and vote for policy on the conference floor. It is that 3 week opportunity to present ideas, policy solutions and demonstrate the benefits of our collective experience across the full political spectrum from fringe meeting to the late night bar debate. ??Unionlearn has followed up on its successful conference programme last year by teaming up with City and Guilds again to tour all three conference and sell the skills agenda. Our theme this year is: ‘Unleashing Talent’. Over the last year we have helped over 250,000 learners and we’re keen to bring that experience to the political parties and politicians.
At the Lib Dems we’ll be joined by Simon Hughes MP as we look at ‘How we plug the skills gap’ – a key chance to speak to one of the governing parties about that all important policy of raising the skills level we have in our workplaces and expand workplace learning across all ages groups. There are still 10 million people in the workplace who are getting no training or investment in their skills from their employer.
When we join Labour in Liverpool we’ll be asking ‘Are workplace skills the key to success in the new economy?’ We’ll be joined by shadow skills minster Gordon Marsden MP and the author of ‘Blue Labour’ – Lord Glasman, as one of the key thinkers contributing to Ed Miliband’s policy agenda it will be an interesting and lively session. It’s an important debate which we all need to show how we link delivering skills to the benefits of day-to-day business and persuade more employers to engage in the debate. ??In Manchester, we finish the conference season with the Conservatives and hear once again from the Skills Minister John Hayes MP where we will be debating with him ‘How do we foster the skills needed for economic growth?’ It’s a debate we’ve been engaging in with ministers for some time, both in this Government and the previous one. Previous surveys have shown that businesses that invest in training do better during downturns and come out through the recovery well too. FE clearly has a role to play in ensuring that continues and working worth employers and government to keep that investment going and it’s a message we’ll be continuing to take to the minister.
Then it is back to London to try and put all the ideas that have come out of the conferences into action, after perhaps a quick break to recover from the travelling!
Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning & skills organisation
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