I think about work a lot. Not just my work; the Council I lead, its 2500 employees, or the 9 people in my family’s business. But the value of work, the dignity that good work brings and why we as trade unionists in the Labour Party need to place it front and centre of our conversation with the public we seek to represent. After all, the clue’s in the name, right?
We’re approaching local elections this May. I’m up for election in my ward as part of the third of members who must face our electorates. As I do all year round, I enjoy talking to people about their lives, their concerns and their ambitions and the trust they put in me.
Everyone tells a story about how their working lives have changed massively. The self-employed people who fell through the cracks and for whom the Community Union has been such an ardent campaigner, the NHS staff we applauded on through lockdown, or the office workers who had to hunch over a laptop and compete for a jumpy broadband signal while their kids home schooled.
How we all work has changed profoundly over the last two years.
A technology shift that was probably going to take a decade was fast tracked almost overnight.
We held meetings online, we got fed up telling colleagues they were on mute, or in my case embarrassed when it was me.
For the lucky ones this proved they were right to push for the kind of flexible working that progressive employers and unions have long embraced. For many others it has meant always being on call and a blurring of work and home life.
Flexibility wasn’t an option for our care staff, or for people in what sometimes gets called the foundational economy – or the everyday economy – who keep us fed, make our transport work efficiently and who keep us in life’s essentials.
There are two things I’ve been involved in that are particularly relevant to anyone who shares my passion for delivering good jobs.
Firstly, I’ve been deeply involved in the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter as the member of Andy Burnham’s cabinet responsible for the economy. It provides a framework for improved working practices, a real living wage and a standard to be proud of.
At its heart the charter is driven to develop diverse, equal, and truly inclusive working conditions across Greater Manchester. By promoting the benefits of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, we’re really aiming to support employers to create workplaces that embrace our seven characteristics of good employment in ways that ensure fair pay, opportunity and progression to all.
Secondly, the Stockport Economic Plan, which we’ve worked on with the Stockport Economic Alliance, a collective of employers from across Stockport – large and small, public, private and third sector, who all share our administration’s determination to bring more of that good employment to Stockport.
I also get fired up about this whenever I meet businesses and their teams who are locating in Stockport.
We’ve done some hard thinking about the purpose of our town, who lives here, what they do, what their lives look like, what jobs they might want, what skills they’ll need to do the jobs we attract here. I find those conversations invaluable and insightful.
As it stands, we start from where we are. Ours is the 3rd largest workforce within Greater Manchester, with 124,000 people employed in 13,000 businesses; skills levels are relatively high with 41.1% of Stockport’s residents qualified to NVQ level 4 or above; over 35% (63,000) of the working population have professional occupations; 8,800 are employed in digital and creative industries and over 10,000 employed in manufacturing; over 26,000 are employed in business, financial and professional services.
But Stockport is also one of the most economically diverse places in the country. Prosperity at one end of the borough, and profound deprivation at the other, which can be masked by those statistical averages. We’re acutely aware of how we need to use our power and influence to expand ways in which those who currently can’t access opportunities are better able to do so. Much of the work in investment in transport, regenerating the town centre, is driven by this purpose.
So, the point of me telling you all this. I’m a political leader that listens, learns and who always tries to bring that accrued knowledge and wisdom with me. I grew up in the Labour movement, my family are embedded in the fellowship of unions. Personally, I’d really like Trade Unions to raise their game and play an active part in shaping this strategy as it evolves. I am huge respectful of the deep knowledge of workplaces, of what good employment feels like. Often it can be hard to step back from the day-to-day, the individual discussions and disputes, but there is a genuine opening here. I’ve learnt the importance of skills and employment security to the prosperity of a place. Building that in partnership can be incredibly fulfilling.