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Federal Policy Committee Report 29 November 2017

December 3, 2017 2:16 PM
By Geoff Payne in Liberal Democrat Voice

Liberal Democrat PolicyThe Federal Policy Committee met again on 29th November 2017. The agenda comprised draft proposals from two of the main working groups in train at present and two further items on strategy.

Update on Education Working Group

Lucy Nethsingha attended the meeting to talk through the preliminary proposals of the Education Working Group. There was an accompanying paper. This group was originally to report to Autumn Conference of this year but was delayed because of the snap General Election. It will now report to Spring Conference 2018.

The committee went through the proposals set out in some detail. I am not going to reproduce them all here because they are not fully finalised and are yet to be debated by conference. However, they set out a clear and compelling reform programme that will make a real difference to the lives of our young people and their teachers.

Committee members raised a number of particular issues. They included how the education system could reduce inequality, the fragmentation of the education system through the widening use of academies and free schools, the role of Local Authorities, careers advice, mental health, diversity, GCSE exams and teacher recruitment.

The group will return to the committee with a completed paper shortly.

Update on Rural Communities Working Group

The committee next received an update from the Rural Communities Working Group and its chair, Heather Kidd. One of the key tasks of the group is to set out a vision of what a successful local community in a rural area looks like.

There was a short paper setting out the provisional conclusions of the group. During the consultation phase, Party members were asked what they thought the key issues were insofar as rural communities are concerned. Those that came up included investment and cuts, broadband and mobile phone signals and public transport. Other important issues included housing, Brexit and the cost of living. The group
has developed policies to meet those challenges, together with a number of others identified through the process, and the committee went through those in some detail.

Particular issues that came up in the debate were housing, transport, tourism and coastal towns.

Again, a completed paper will return to the committee at a future meeting (probably in January) and the proposals will be debated at Spring Conference 2018.

Race Equality Working Group

The committee agreed to set up a Race Equality Working Group at its last meeting. This is a high priority area for the Party and one in which work is now overdue.

The chair and remit of the group was agreed at this meeting. The chair is to be Merlene Emerson. The Vice-Chair is to be Issan Ghazni. We advertised the position of chair widely and there were a number of high quality applicants.

The remit of the group makes it clear that the Party is committed to a fair, free and open society, as is set out in our Preamble to the Constitution. We reject all forms of discrimination and prejudice and we are therefore committed to race equality. The remit notes that advances have been made towards a less discriminatory society but there are still many barriers and prejudice in evidence.

The group is required to consider those barriers and propose policies to address them and to create a more inclusive, tolerant and fair society. Specific areas that the group will be required to consider include public sector institutions, legislation, race inequality in the economy, as well as the justice, housing and education systems. Health inequality is also to feature.

The group is to consult at Autumn Conference 2018 and report to Spring Conference 2019.

Membership Engagement Update

There was a useful report-back on the policy-related activities of some of the Regions in England and Specified Associated Organisations (SAOs) including Liberal Youth. The committee is going to re-visit the question of liaison between Regions/SAOs in February 2018.

Strategic Messaging

Mark Pack attended the meeting to talk about strategic messaging. He said that he had been asked by Vince Cable to convene a small group to consider the approach of the Party to strategic messaging and to ensure that there is strong integration between initiatives of the Leader, the Federal Policy Committee, the Chief Executive and the Campaigns element of the Party. In doing that, the group had been through the market research that the Party had commissioned, analysed our General Election data and considered what had worked in campaigns in the past.

Mark went on to identify some lessons for us to learn for the future together with a number of ways in which the Party can improve its strategic messaging. Those are clearly sensitive matters and I will not set them out in detail here but there is a lot of work ongoing in these areas. There will be a motion to Spring Conference from the Federal Board about it.

Several issues were highlighted by committee members in the debate that ensued. There were questions about the role of manifestoes, how the content and tone of our manifestoes might change and the role of policy generally. The committee is going to return to this in the early part of the New Year.

Making Policy to Win Votes

Complementary to the last item, Jim Williams presented a paper to the committee about how our policy-making process can be more strategic, integrated, and can complement our campaigning more effectively.

He made a number of practical suggestions about how we might better co-ordinate with the Campaigns and Communications arm of the Party. He laid out some questions that every Policy Working Group could ask itself when formulating its plans. There were also some proposed changes to the policy-making process to make it more nimble and, in some cases, faster-moving, and, at the same time, to draw upon the skills of our members more consistently than we do at present.

There was a further discussion about what our signature policies were and how we can most effectively express them. It was observed that this is actually quite a difficult thing to do.

Jim stressed that the different committees in the Party needed to work together much more closely, and a new forum in which those responsible, for example, for policy, campaigns the Leader's Office and people development to meet was suggested.

The committee is going to take that work forward together with some additional work on identifying signature policies. The remainder of the recommendations will be re-visited in the New Year.

Report-Back from the Federal Board

Jeremy Hargreaves reported back to the committee about the most recent meeting of the Federal Board. The Board had been through the work plans of all the other committees to ensure that they were all aligned and facing the same way.

There were a couple of comments fed back to us about the Federal Policy Committee plan. One of those concerned the identification of signature policies. The second was about the need to support membership development and engagement. The third one was about working more closely with other committees. We would like to do more work with the Federal People Development Committee.

* 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.