Trying to persuade our Government to use joined up thinking is not easy, particularly when they are trying to work across different departments. However even individual departments seem incapable of this. On Tuesday one of the DUP MPs, Gregory Campbell asked the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) a simple question that relates to a very challenging issue. “To ask the Secretary of State for BEIS, what recent discussions he has had with business representatives on potential barriers to recruiting women into the STEM workforce.” The Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department is Richard Harrington, MP for Watford and he responded to the question on behalf of his Department and his boss Greg Clark “The demand for STEM skills is growing and industry recognises that there is a gender imbalance, particularly in sectors such as engineering, construction and manufacturing. In order to improve gender representation, we have taken focussed action to engage with businesses, representative bodies and learned societies to understand what the barriers are to participation, retention and progression. This includes a series of engagements to understand what more we can do to work collaboratively and improve representation of women in the STEM sector.”
It is reasonably common for Ministers to claim to be engaging with communities such as businesses and also wider communities on matters such as Brexit. However there is never much evidence of engagement beyond tours by Ministers who come into settings, make presentations, claim to be listening and then depart after a few minutes and never appear to retain any of the comments and suggestions that are made. However it is not always easy to demonstrate how their ‘engagement’ attempts are non existent. On this occasion the day after Richard answered the question or rather made a statement that was intended to deflect the question, the BEIS Select Committee published a report on how SMEs are under immense pressure due to the way in which most of their big business clients refuse to pay them on 30 day terms
“The Small businesses and productivity report says that for a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) to succeed it is crucial they are paid fairly and on time. However, the report finds that bad payment practices have led to the failure of many SMEs and prevented others from growing and improving their productivity. Initiatives to address poor payment practices, including the Government’s Prompt Payment Code, have been ineffective, say MPs.
The report recommends the Government introduce a statutory requirement for companies to pay within 30 days, move as soon as possible to require all medium and large companies to sign the Prompt Payment Code, and equip the Small Business Commissioner with powers to fine those companies who pay late.”
It is clear that if the Government was fulfilling the concept outlined by Richard that the issue regarding the 30 payments would have been heard very clearly by the Government without the need for the select Committee to carry out a report which is no doubt very valuable but is yet more time, words and expense to try to resolve a level of engagement that the Government claims to be focused on. The reality is that if engagement is taking place whatever the question, businesses like people would list their various concerns, not just the issues that the Government wishes to discuss. We need some joined up working if our economy is to get strengthened!