As the party conference season draws to a close, we have learned a few things. The Liberal Democrats don’t like bankers, Labour has a new leader, and the Conservatives are steeling themselves for tough spending decisions ahead. Being at all three conferences has given us chance to reflect on the major issues that will dominate national debate over the next year or so.
One policy that was closely associated with Ed Miliband’s campaign for Labour leader was the ‘living wage’. Not to be confused with the minimum wage, this is a voluntary pledge made by employers to pay low earners an agreed salary calculated for a basic standard of living. In London, for example, the living wage is currently £7.81 an hour. It’s a concept which will worry many retailers who have no idea how they could afford such levels of pay.
I doubt there are any that choose to be low pay employers. Retailers understand the benefit of rewarding good staff. Where retailers are low payers, it’s because that is the only rate they can afford.
For the government (or the Conservative part at least) the conference was a time to entrench the concept of the ‘Big Society’. In practical terms this means greater decision-making power to government at the local level. The more control that is granted to councils over regulatory policies like alcohol and planning, the more chance there will be of inconsistency and uncertainty for business.
The message of the Prime Minister’s speech was that localism was not a clever election slogan, but a philosophy that will inform decisions emerging over coming months. We must take his message at face value and realise that engaging with the community will move from being a good idea into a necessity.