In his monthly Western Mail column, Matt Southall, Acorn's Managing Director talks about the general election and what it means for Wales and the recruitment industry.
Snowdonia has inspired artists and poets for centuries, but now apparently, it has started inspiring politicians too. We’re not sure what it was about Snowdonia’s breath-taking scenery that moved Teresa May to call a snap general election, but whatever it was, for the third time in two years, the British people are heading to the polls.
So much has happened in recent months that it is strange to think that it is only two years since we were last discussing the political parties’ manifestos. Back in 2015 we couldn’t possibly have foreseen the way things would ultimately change in such a short period of time.
At the start of 2015, there was genuine concern that we were looking at another coalition government and the detrimental impact this may have had on the markets. In part, in his effort to avoid this and appeal to more voters, David Cameron made his promise that should the Conservatives win, he would hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
Fast forward two years and some bookies are taking bets on whether the Conservatives will walk away with an unprecedented majority of over 100. However, if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that polls and predictions should be taken with a pinch of salt.
What we do know is that the promise of ‘certainty and stability’ is a welcome one. The last two years have been sadly lacking in both and what we must hope for with the forthcoming election is that by putting a new government in place for five years, we will be able to have a period of steadiness that British businesses so badly crave.
Something that hasn’t changed in two years are business leaders’ hopes that whichever party ends up in power in June, it will put the economy central in its strategy. While consumer confidence has remained relatively high, and we have seen continued growth in jobs, there is unavoidable uncertainty as we await the outcome of Brexit, and clear, strong policies and leadership to drive economic confidence would allay many fears.
While the main parties spend the coming days deciding what will ultimately be in their election manifestos, interest groups are gearing up to have their say, pushing their own agendas forward.
As representatives of the UK’s recruitment industry, ultimately representing tens of thousands of employers up and down the country, we have already said that we believe the labour market has to be a priority. Some think it will be a busy few months for contract workers as businesses hold off making decisions about future permanent staffing requirements until there is more certainty, and we are keen to ensure that when the election is over, the labour market will be given the focus that it needs to continue to thrive in what are likely to become testing times.
Meanwhile, organisations like the CBI, IoD, FSB and the chambers of commerce will once again also be relied upon to lobby for business interests. Groups like this are so important in ensuring that business priorities aren’t lost among all the other issues, especially at such a complex and tumultuous time.
The CBI has emphasised that they, and their member businesses, support a strategy that focuses on fixing what it sees as the foundations of our economy: skills infrastructure, energy and innovation.
Skills shortages have been increasingly on the agenda in recent years, and as demand in certain sectors has grown exponentially, we haven’t yet experienced any real impact of any interventions to ensure we have enough of the right skills to fill roles and to boost productivity. In fact, with our impending exit from the EU and the uncertainty surrounding how employers will be able to benefit from immigration, in terms of both skilled and unskilled workers, these gaps might even get bigger.
So, from Teresa May in Snowdonia over Easter, to Jeremy Corbyn in Whitchurch, Cardiff on Friday, Wales has already had a part to play in this election and I hope that continues over the coming weeks. I also hope that however Parliament looks come June, the regional investment that has been set in motion with city region deals start to make their impact and also that we’ll see confirmation of the Swansea bay tidal lagoon in coming weeks to ensure that Welsh infrastructure projects remain a priority in order to give jobs, and economic confidence a real boost as we head into the Brexit unknown.
In many ways, it’s hard to believe how much has changed in two years. However, what hasn’t changed is the fact that day in, day out, regardless of what is going on in Westminster, British people are turning up for work and doing what they can to help the country thrive. I hope that we end up with a Government that can see the value and potential of this workforce and allows the British economy to succeed and grow over the next five years and beyond.