Last week saw the launch of Labour’s trade and industry task forces, an initiative headed by Shadow Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Margaret Beckett to involve business figures in influencing the party’s policy.
These groups draw on individuals from the fields of industry, academia, consumer groups and trades unions. Their suggestions will be passed on to the Industry Forum, set up three years ago and billed as “an independent organisation bringing together key British industrialists”. The Labour Party hopes to build its new industrial policy through the observations these task forces throw up.
The five initial task forces cover innovation, design, science and technology; small businesses; competition; city and financial services; and regulation of the utilities.
These are scheduled to complete their discussions next month, after which the final task force on competitiveness, investment and productivity will be set up.
This ultimate task force will draw together the ideas of its five predecessors, with design making “a significant contribution”, although the details of who will take part are not yet finalised, says Industry Forum chairman Gerald Frankel.
The voice of design on the design and innovation task force is represented by Sir Terence Conran and Design Council design director Sean Blair, who will also sit on the small business group. Both Conran and the Design Council are enthusiastic about the principle of the scheme and the potential of getting design written into policy.
“I welcome this initiative,” says Conran. “Isn’t it time that government took the importance of design more seriously?”
A Design Council spokesman says: “As the national authority on design we want to be talking to people developing industrial policies. We want design value and power to be recognised in Labour’s industrial policy.”
Both stress the apolitical nature of their participation in the scheme. “I am not a political person, nor a member of the Labour party, but I support the initiative,” says Conran. “If it was a Tory party forum I would have joined that.”
The Conservatives’ perceived lack of interest in design has made the task forces all the more appealing. “The present Government does not pay enough attention to the importance of design in the economic or social sense,” says Conran.
McNeece chairman John McNeece is a signed up member and strong supporter of the Conservatives. However, he too is unimpressed by the Tories’ contribution to design, although he does not hold them fully responsible: “I don’t think they have done a great deal for the design industry, but that’s our fault – we have to make them much more aware of the potential of design. It’s not up to any government to sell our product,” he says.
He praises the principle of task forces: “These are sensible ideas. It’s a way for us to jump on the bandwagon.”
Labour’s task forces are now rolling forward with a seat reserved for design. The result, a Labour trade and policy document, will be presented this year.