Workers who are inspired and fulfilled in their jobs will help the UK economy recover, Jo Swinson has said. Speaking at the Lib Dem conference, the newly appointed employment minister said the country needed to “maximise the full potential” of its workforce. She said she wanted an “inclusive, engaged workforce” and “an inspired new generation of entrepreneurs”.
She also called for more flexible working and more disabled people and women in the workforce.
Ms Swinson, who was until recently a ministerial aide to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, was promoted in the government reshuffle at the beginning of September.
During her first appearance as a minister at conference she said unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, was a challenge – but said it was not the only problem the government faced in getting the economy back on track.
“There are also large numbers of people in work, but uninspired,” she said.
“In the current economic circumstances we simply can’t afford not to maximise the full potential of our workforce.”
Drawing on her own experience of work in a fast-food restaurant and with an “enforced perma-smile” at the Disney Store, Ms Swinson said she knew she was at her “most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work”.
She said: “In recovering from the most serious economic downturn for decades, it’s a no-brainer that we need to draw on everyone’s skills and potential.
“Making it harder for people to play an active role in our economy because they are women, or have a disability, or are parents, is a shocking waste of talent.
“For instance, we need to seize the game-changing opportunity that the Paralympics have given us to improve the employment opportunities of people with disabilities.
“It gives us a chance to make the business case for employing people with disabilities, and we must do it.”
She praised government efforts to increase the representation of women at board level, but not without a little dig at the impact of David Cameron’s reshuffle on political representation.
“Following the Davies report commissioned by Vince Cable, we have seen the largest ever annual increase in women on boards – though incidentally not in the Cabinet,” she said.
‘Missing a trick’
Advances in technology should make flexible working easier for parents and more should be done to promote “meaningful” part-time jobs, including at a senior level to help women’s employment prospects.
On encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit, she said: “The workplace is not just about employees – many people are self-employed, and we need to encourage more people to start businesses.
“Here again, we are missing a trick with the talents of women.
“There are less than half as many women entrepreneurs as men. If we could get women to start up businesses at the same rate as men, we’d see 150,000 new start-ups each year.”
She said female Olympic role models show that “ruthless determination and desire to win at all costs are not exclusively male traits”.
She pledged to bring forward “fresh ideas on how to improve women’s access to finance” to help more women start their own businesses.