Updating from The ABPI's work at the 2017 Labour Party Conference, Elliot Dunster, Head of External Affairs, reports what Labour's 'fourth industrial revolution' might mean for the pharmaceutical industry and the future of healthcare in the UK.
A key theme of the 2017 Labour Party Conference was ‘the fourth industrial revolution’. The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, set out that this revolution of accelerating technological change would be used under a Labour Government to create ‘secure employment and end austerity’. The ABPI was at Conference to understand what this might mean for the pharmaceutical industry and the future of healthcare in the UK, as well as to make sure the Party has a strong understanding of the key opportunities and challenges facing our industry. Here are three things we learnt.
The ABPI attended Labour’s Business Day, and it was clear that businesses in many sectors are also taking engagement with the Labour Party front bench very seriously. With the Shadow Chancellor using his speech on Monday to talk about the coming ‘fourth industrial revolution’, sessions with him, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Shadow International Trade Secretary and Shadow Business Secretary all gave industry the opportunity to ask the Labour front bench about their plans. A number of Labour party speakers were keen to emphasise that they understood business needs certainty and they are the best party to provide this, particularly mentioning Brexit. Alongside less business friendly commentary about the need for corporations to ‘start paying their fair share’, the Shadow Chancellor also announced plans to establish a Strategic Investment Board to co-ordinate state investment to support the economy. He spoke directly about wanting Britain to ‘embrace the possibilities of technological change’ by investing in key research projects and fostering the creation of new technology networks, as well as infrastructure investment that would be distributed ‘fairly’ across the UK. The Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, said that both she and the Shadow Chancellor would welcome new ideas from businesses, and that their doors were always open.
The ABPI used the opportunity to ask the Shadow Business Secretary directly about what plans a Labour Government would have to support industries with long research and development cycles, such as the pharmaceutical industry. Whilst the answer was broad and focused on skills and promoting local growth, it is clear that Labour are thinking carefully about developing policies to create more new and highly productive jobs. The ABPI will continue to engage with the Labour frontbench as this development continues.
On Tuesday morning, the ABPI hosted a breakfast roundtable meeting with Chi Onwurah MP, the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation, with our partners the BIA, BIVDA and AMRC. The subject was on how better use of data can improve patient healthcare and R&D in the UK. The discussion was extremely productive, with Chi joined by her colleagues Thangam Debbonaire MP, the Labour MP for Bristol West, and Alex Mayer MEP. Chi spoke clearly about the Labour Party’s plans to increase R&D investment; the value of data in delivering more effective and personalised healthcare; and the need for the public to feel confident in how their data is being held before this is possible.
Chi confirmed that Labour are developing the detail and implementation plans for their own industrial strategy and the ABPI will be sharing our work on this with the Labour team. The role of data must be a part of this – particularly if the Party continues to focus on the idea of capitalising on a ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
The run up to the Labour conference was dominated by a debate about a debate – would Brexit be given an official slot on the conference floor? In reality, this was largely academic because it felt like every fringe meeting and discussion in the bars was about Brexit, Labour’s position and the implications for any plans a future Labour Government may wish to put in place. At an NHS Confederation fringe event on supporting change in the NHS, the ABPI asked a question about how well the Labour Party understood the implications of Brexit on the NHS, and the response was mixed. The NHS Confederation led Brexit Health Alliance, that the ABPI is playing a leading role in, is an important source for a lot of this analysis. The Labour Party would do well to pay this work very close attention.
But the implications of leaving the EU go far beyond just the NHS. Any plans Labour may have for a future Government will largely be informed by the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Labour’s ambiguous position in a number of areas of Brexit policy extended to Jeremy Corbyn stating that the UK should remain in the Single Market and Customs Union for at least a limited transitional period. So despite the lack of debating time on the conference floor, it’s clear that the Party are increasingly aware that any ambitious plans they have will have to apply in a post Brexit world - and they need to be prepared to shape this.