Ed Miliband Labour party Conference 2013

The learning curve of Ed Miliband, apprentice Prime Minister

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2014 - 09:18 GMT Jump to Comments

Ed Miliband will make government suppliers take on apprentices if Labour wins the election, but his party conference speech highlighted his own lack of work experience

There was one specific pledge concerning suppliers to the public sector in Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech to his party conference in Manchester last week: “We’re going to give you control of the money for apprenticeships for the first time but in exchange, if you want a major government contract, then you must provide apprenticeships to our young people.”

This was one element of six goals Mr Miliband set in his speech, linked to another that any firm bringing in workers from outside the EU would also have to provide apprenticeships. So if Labour wins the general election next May, most sizeable companies will need to develop apprenticeship programmes if they do not already have them.

The idea is not a bad one. Training people from a young age can result in more loyal, reliable and productive employees, but the initial costs can be off-putting compared with taking on someone just off the boat, with more experience and a willingness to work for low pay. Labour's proposals may get employers to do something that many would prefer to do, with less fear of rivals stealing a competitive edge. To lead by example, Mr Miliband is taking on a non-graduate apprentice of his own, at £8.80 an hour.

The potential problems arising from the Labour leader’s speech, for suppliers and anyone else interested in how government works, were more general. He presented himself as applying for the job of prime minister, but often sounded like someone ready only to be an apprentice.

Leaving aside the self-inflicted screw-up of forgetting to deliver sections of his speech on the deficit and immigration, Mr Miliband’s solutions to specific public sector problems sometimes sounded naïve. On the NHS, he might have said this: “Friends, just up the road in Blackpool, men die at an average age of 74. In Kensington and Chelsea, they enjoy eight more years of life. In government, we will focus on improving the health of people in places like Blackpool, and narrow that gap.” Or he might have talked about specific improvements that patients would see under Labour.

Instead, Mr Miliband said: “We will set aside resources so that we can have in our NHS 3,000 more midwives, 5,000 more care workers, 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses.”

As any employer knows, the number of staff in particular jobs is only a factor in getting results. Their overall productivity is more important, but ultimately it’s about what this achieves for those you serve.

Healthcare think-tank the King’s Fund, while supporting extra money for the NHS, said some should go into a health and social care transformation fund to help shift work from hospitals to community based services. The NHS needs to change how it works, rather than just do more of the same, but Mr Miliband did not acknowledge that.

Under Tony Blair, the last Labour government struggled up a steep learning curve, where it realised that reworking public services and boosting productivity was at least as important as increasing budgets and staff numbers. The man who may well be prime minister next May sounds like he has forgotten that; an apprentice prime minister with a lot to learn.

Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour party conference

Response to speech by the King’s Fund

Unpicking Government plans to integrate Social Care and Healthcare (Reality Bites podcast)

Labour will 'turn the tide' on 'broken' banking system, says Miliband (The Information Daily, Jan 2014)

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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