As you may know I’m on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee which is a group of MPs that has a constitutional right to examine, challenge, and comment on different aspects of government policy but also that of the business community too. Normally we do detailed inquiries that offer government suggestions to improve policies, but we also have the power to look into areas of business activity we feel needs extra scrutiny.
During my time on the BEIS committee I have been involved in a huge range of issues, from holding businesses to account for questionable practice, to advising on governmental nuclear policy post-Brexit. The work has been hugely varied and I have taken every opportunity I can to hold both Business and Government to account.
Here are some examples:
Scrutinising the Government’s Climate Targets
We’ve been looking in detail at the government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and examining whether this target goes far enough to protect our environment for current and future generations.
We were lucky enough to get Sir David Attenborough to talk to us about what he thinks – who better to listen to than the person who made the natural world accessible to millions, earned the trust and respect of viewers around the world, and used that trust to mobilise action on species extinction, climate change, and plastic waste along with so much more.
The session was attended by more young people than we’ve ever seen at the Select Committee and Sir David pointed out to us MPs that we owed it to them to deliver a sustainable environment to their generation. It’s a responsibility that I, for one, take very seriously indeed.
You can watch the session here: https://www.facebook.com/hoveandportslade/videos/372259296765373/
The Committee has also invited groups including Extinction Rebellion and WWF to share their views on the Government’s strategy for tackling the climate emergency and the actions needed to achieve net zero emissions – I’m listening and learning so much about the radical changes we’ll need to tackle the monumental challenges we’re facing.
Standing up for our Community’s Post Office
In the four years I’ve been your MP one of the things that has annoyed me the most was the way the Post Office treated our community in the run up to closing the Brunswick Town Crown Post Office.
They promised us a genuine consultation and I took them at their word. But it was a sham.
When people do this to our community I never forget it! So I pushed really hard on the select committee to look at the post office closure and restructuring programme, and got the chance to question the Post Office Chief Executive. You can watch our exchange here: https://www.facebook.com/hoveandportslade/videos/2458614994369701/.
I hope when you see exchanges like these that those of you affected by the Post Office closures feel like I’m giving you voice, because that’s what’s in my mind at times like these.
Since this exchange the CEO has been in touch with me and offered to come to Hove and meet with me again to learn the lessons from this time. I wrote back thanking him for the offer and accepting it. I don’t want any other community to go through what we did and if some good comes out of it then it’ll be a good day’s work!
Sticking Up For Staff At Sports Direct
When news broke about a culture of bullying, exploitation, and sexual harassment that has developed within Sports Direct we invited its founder, owner, and boss, Mike Ashley, to come and talk to us. Before we met him we privately met with a group of former and current employees. All of their stories were harrowing. We then met the companies that supply Sports Direct with several thousand temporary and flexible workers, all on zero hours contracts. I was disgusted by their lack of knowledge of employment law, of HR practice, and the sheer lack of humanity in the workplace.
Mr Ashley then arrived. I asked him if he thought he was a kind man, and then confronted him with the experiences told to us by his employees. I asked “Do you think your company has outgrown your ability to manage it?” His reply: “Yes, probably”.
It takes so much preparation to get ready for a session like this. I wanted to try my best to hold him to account, to do justice to the employees who have suffered at his hands, but also to do so in a way that would lead to change and not destruction. I want Sports Direct to improve and to be a brand we can be proud of, not as it is now which brings shame on British business and pain to many of its employees.
I’m pleased to say Mike Ashley has promised ‘a new era’ at the company and is making progress. We’ll be checking though!
Clamping Down on Corporate Greed
No company is too big or powerful to have to avoid paying its fair share of taxes and this included Coca Cola! I have taken on the drinks giant and spoken out about its attempts to shy away from paying its fair share of tax in its £3.9billion takeover of Costa Coffee.
I said: ‘Coca-Cola has a decision to make. Does it want to be a company that is known for putting profit ahead of everything else, such as Starbucks?
‘Or does it want to maintain the reputation that companies like Costa have of honouring the spirit of being a British company that contributes not just to our High Street but to our country through its honest contribution to our tax system?’
Outsourcing Scandal and Carillion
The folly of using contractors to drive down the cost of providing public services has been exposed by the collape of Carillion. The UK’s second-largest construction company buckled under the weight of a whopping £1.5bn debt pile and it was my job to sit on the enquiry.
I’m proud that I helped expose the extraordinary negligence of the Carillion directors: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/carillion-collapse-kpmg-deloitte-mps-worthless-accounts-business-committee-rachel-reeves-a8223626.html
Nuclear Power Regulation
The committee has also produced reports into the Government’s nuclear policy post Brexit. As part of our membership of the EU we have been part of a body known as EURATOM, an organisation that exists to regulate and coordinate nuclear policy across the EU. This is an organisation that the Government has agreed is ‘Mutually beneficial’ to the UK nuclear industry and as such it is vital that we prevent brexit from causing disruption to our energy sector.
In the committee’s report we advised the government should avoid such disruption by deferring exit of EURATOM until we have an agreement on a future arrangement on nuclear policy. We have repeatedly had meetings with Ministers and experts in their fields so that we can effectively hold the government to account on these incredibly complex issues.
Our Committee also did an inquiry looking at the impact of technology on the role of frontline workers. One of Uber’s bosses was one of the witnesses and I got the chance to challenge them about the way they act as a company.
Uber and other companies who use apps to revolutionise services to us, the customer, have been amazing in the convenience they offer, and many of the staff who work in the frontline love the flexibility it offers.
But there’s a downside too. Risk is passed down – for example, if you’re run over by a self-employed driver they are responsible, rather than a big company – and profits are passed up. So delivery companies like Hermes don’t pay pensions or other benefits to their drivers, but the post office does.
But it’s also about rights and protection too. An employed driver for the post office gets a pension, protection from the minimum wage and a cap on maximum hours worked plus a holiday entitlement, all protected by law. But a driver for Uber, a delivery driver for Hermes, or a rider for Deliveroo gets none of these so the company gets to pocket that saving directly as opposed to the frontline workers.
So, I wanted to look into how we can keep this innovation, but make sure we keep a level playing field and all companies driving us or delivering to us, for example, play by the same rules.
And also, when any company acts belligerently and tries to bully regulators or lawmakers, I’ll show them what we in Hove and Portslade think of people who try to push others around!! That’s why this brief exchange with an Uber boss made a few headlines: https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2017/10/11/hove-mp-grills-uber-over-40000-jobs-fear-hypocrisy/
The Future of Transport – Electric Vehicles
Our Committee’s inquiry into electric vehicles looked at how government can help drive the transition we need to make to greener transport, and as part of our work we got the opportunity to escape London to drive the cars ourselves and meet the people making them. You can read more about this here: https://www.facebook.com/hoveandportslade/posts/electric-carsmost-of-the-work-we-do-on-the-select-committee-i-sit-on-is-in-dingy/923712207802482/
My experience driving an electric car and being in an electric taxi made me feel strongly that the government’s target of 2040 for when new cars must be electric is not ambitious enough.
The technology is here, it is extremely robust and desirable, and it is ready for prime time. Issues like this are really important given the climate emergency we’re facing, so I called a debate in Parliament and urged the Government to bring forward the date by which the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be ended – you can read my speech here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-07-04/debates/8F5F937C-512C-42D6-A2D6-82A92276D85C/SaleOfNewPetrolAndDieselCarsAndVans
If you want more information on what the BEIS committee is doing you can visit the Parliamentary website here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/