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Report of Federal Policy Committee meeting – 13 July 2016

July 15, 2016 5:24 PM
By Geoff Payne in Liberal Democrat Voice

The Federal Policy Committee is traditionally very busy in the immediate run-up to the summer holiday. That is because of conference deadlines and the need to get everything concluded before August when a lot of people are away.

The most recent meeting of the committee, which came hot on the heels of the last one, was on 13th July 2016. It also happened to be the day that Labour plunged further into disarray following the revelation that Jeremy Corbyn will appear on the ballot paper in their leadership election and, of course, the country had a new Prime Minister foisted upon it.

As we were going through the meeting, government announcements were being about new Cabinet members. We paused several time for a collective intake of breath.

There was a lot to discuss. We did not finish until some time after 9pm.

Membership of the committee

Gareth Epps has resigned from the committee because he has taken a job that is politically restricted. Gareth has been a very active member of FPC for a long time and he will certainly be missed from the committee. We were, however, delighted to welcome Antony Hook as his replacement.

Education Working Group

The committee agreed the chairs, membership, and remits of three new working groups. Each of those groups was recommended by the Agenda 2020 exercise.

The first of these was education. The remit requires the group to identify proposals for new policy in Education in England. The group is particularly to be directed to identify policies which could be strong campaigning issues within education, reinforcing our overall liberal vision of creating opportunity for everyone regardless of background. The group is also expected to consider and address Liberal Democrat principles on diversity and equalities in developing their proposals. It will deal with the overall principles of education, Early Years, funding, structures, academies, governors, standards and inspections, quality, teacher recruitment, closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, school and the world of work, Further Education and adult education. It will not deal with Higher Education.

The chair is to be Lucy Nethsingha. The membership of the group was appointed. It is fair to say that there was very strong competition for places. In fact, we had over 830 applications for the working groups.

Rural Communities Working Group

This is the second new working group that was considered. Its remit is to produce proposals on how to grow the rural economy, protect local services, and manage sustainable agriculture and the rural environment, reinforcing our overall liberal vision of creating opportunity for everyone regardless of background. Again, the group is particularly directed to identify strong campaigning issues for use in rural communities and it is expected to consider and address Liberal Democrat principles on diversity and equalities in developing their proposals.

It will specifically deal with the changing nature of rural jobs, the High Street, service provision, affordable housing, the needs of very remote areas, environmental issues such as flooding, forestry and diversification, and food security, agriculture and genetically modified food.

The chair of the group is to be Heather Kidd and the Vice-Chair will be Peter Fane.

21st Century Economy Working Group

This group will consider economic policy. Its remit is to produce policies for promoting a more dynamic, innovative and sustainable economy, reinforcing our overall liberal vision of creating opportunity for everyone regardless of background and challenging existing concentrations of power within the economy. Again, it needs to consider strong campaigning themes and equality and diversity.

Particular areas for it to address are the overall objectives of economic and industrial policy, the impact of technology, raising productivity levels, innovation and the link between business and academic research, investment in infrastructure, a number of sector specific questions, skills, automation and jobs, flexible working and the work- life balance, diversity in entrepreneurship and resource efficiency.

Julia Goldsworthy and Mike Tuffrey are to be the co-chairs.

Agenda 2020

As I have set out before, this working group has a remit that requires it to analyse the challenges facing the country at present, identify a liberal response to them and finally to set out a policy development programme that will allow the party to meet those various challenges.

The final paper, as amended post the Brexit vote, was presented to the committee and finally signed off for conference. You will see the final text on the party website in the conference papers section shortly.

Manifesto Working Group

The committee appointed a group to write the party a manifesto in the event that there was a snap General Election. Dick Newby is to chair that group. The membership was approved and the timetable considered. It is likely that there will be a special meeting of the committee to consider the finalised text and layout in early September. This is an extremely ambitious exercise but it is achievable.

Political Strategy

Tim Farron spent some time talking the committee through his political strategy that he is devising. He went through where he saw the party going forward and what he thought the political priorities were. There was a very long and interesting discussion at the committee. It is not one that I can fully report for obvious reasons. There was no paper and there were no conclusions but it was a very useful agenda item. There were contributions on which policy areas we should be prioritising, the question of the European referendum, and our approach to the other parties.

* Geoff Payne represents the English Party on the Federal Policy Committee. He is also one of the Vice-Chairs of Federal Conference Committee. He chaired the Criminal Justice Working Group.