New Labour, new government, a new dawn breaks for design?

Now Labour is in, most in the design industry are optimistic. But will designers feel the difference?

While the appointment of a minister responsible for design was still being thrashed out as Design Week went to press, designers seem optimistic about Labour’s overall approach to the industry.

In general, the change in Government has been welcomed, although some designers are still doubtful whether Labour policies can really help them.

Jonathan Sands, Design Business Association chairman and managing director of Elmwood, is nervous about the future for small businesses. “I view the future with some trepidation because, frankly, Elmwood has never had it so good,” he says. “I have only worked under a Tory Government. I only hope that everything Mr Blair has said actually does happen.”

He is unconvinced that any changes could actually be beneficial to Elmwood. “We can’t deny the economy is booming and the design industry is strong. I hope that New Labour really is New Labour and not old Labour with a new corporate identity. It’s uncharted territory and that makes anybody nervous,” he says.

Others are less uneasy. Chartered Society of Designers president Nick Jenkins says: “I think it can do nothing but good. I think things will look up.”

Neil Smith, a director at Giant which designed much of Labour’s campaign literature, says: “[As director of a small business] I have no fears at all.”

As clients, “they were very appreciative of good design and were aware of the importance of good design”, he adds.

Both Smith and Jenkins are looking to the party to improve Government procurement policies and practice. “We [at the CSD] will renew our efforts to get the procurement attitude right. The Labour people I’ve spoken to have all been receptive and now they will grasp the nettle,” says Jenkins.

Terence Conran, whose support of the Labour election campaign was so vocal, is confident in the new ministers’ capabilities to take up the cause for design. “All the indications I’ve had are that they will pay a lot more attention to design,” he says. “The design industry is going terrifically well, but you can’t give the last Government much credit for that.

“The shadow ministers I’ve spoken to see the importance of design to the economy and to the quality of life in the country. Time will tell [if Labour is positive for design and small businesses].”

And Conran is keeping his fingers crossed for Government backing for the Design Museum, something the last Government never delivered.

Design Council chairman John Sorrell is encouraged by the Government’s commitment to design and the council as outlined in the party’s manifestos. “Many people in the Labour Party have shown a great interest in and understanding of what design can achieve in terms of greater competition,” he says.

Meanwhile, the Design Council has already made its first contribution to Labour’s policy plans by publishing a response to the proposals for a University for Industry – Labour’s initiative to train the workforce.

The response highlights the importance of design in education and the contribution design could make in the way the university operates.

The issues of design will continue to be raised by the Industry Forum. Set up in 1993, the forum was fed into by the party’s trade and industry task forces which kicked off last year.

These task forces cover – among other things – design, small businesses and competition. Terence Conran and Design Council design director Sean Blair represented design, and Blair also sat on the small business group. “We will continue to get design high up on the agenda,” says Gerald Frankel, who is retained as Industry Forum chairman.

Meanwhile, Giant continues to work for the Labour Party. “It seems to have done the trick,” says Smith of Giant’s design work, which he is tempted to enter for every design effectiveness award going.

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