Events Roundup: February 2021 | IPT

In February 2021 we held seven virtual events covering topics from improving public transport to conserving nature through biodiversity. We were fortunate enough to have some high-profile speakers such as the CEO of Octopus Group, Chris Hulatt and President of the Law Society, David Greene, alongside Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP.

Work Post-COVID: Helping SMEs Rebuild

On Monday 01 February, we hosted a virtual event between parliamentarians, industry representatives and academics entitled ‘Work Post-COVID: Helping SMEs Rebuild.’ The discussion was chaired by Seema Malhotra MP, Shadow Minister for Employment and welcomed guest speakers Chris Hulatt, Chief Executive Officer, Octopus Group and Mike Cherry OBE, National Chair, Federation of Small Businesses. The discussion focused on the importance of supporting SMEs to recover post-COVID and stimulating new business start-ups.

Main points raised:

  • The budget is an opportunity that will allow for business rates to be scrapped, enabling businesses to see growth rather than an increase in tax. Could the Government also allow ISAs to invest in unquoted companies to support SMEs?
  • As businesses look to recover and reinvent their focus, what can be done to link unemployed staff to business needs or upskill staff currently on furlough? 
  • Highlighting success stories and role models in local communities could motivate other entrepreneurial individuals to start a business
  • Research suggests many individuals would be interested in starting their own business but lack the funds to do so. How can industry bodies and government encourage entrepreneurs and provide financial support? How could a springboard programme foster new ventures?

Boosting Biodiversity: Conserving UK Nature

On Tuesday 02 February, we hosted a virtual event chaired by Fay Jones MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Ministerial Team. She was joined by Mike Green, Agricultural Sustainability Manager – Agricultural Solutions, BASF plc and Professor Mark Williams, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Leicester. The discussed focused on the changing pressures on the environment and challenges in delivering on the Government’s commitment that 30% of the English countryside will be protected to support the recovery of nature by 2030.

Main points raised:

  • There needs to be a holistic approach to Biodiversity. The earth is one huge ecosystem and addressing one issue without proper consideration can result in unintended negative consequences.
  • The importance of considering urban landscapes when protecting biodiversity, as well as rural areas. The design of cities needs to be improved and developed with consideration for the local ecology.
  • The social and economic implications of moving towards a more sustainable food production model in UK. In particular, the importance of avoiding an increase in food prices for the consumer, which could result in a two-tier food market in the UK.

Keeping Public Transport Moving Post-COVID

On Tuesday 02 February, we hosted a virtual event between parliamentarians, industry representatives and academics entitled ‘Keeping Public Transport Moving Post-COVID.’ The discussion was chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP, Select Committee on Transport and welcomed guest speakers Katy Taylor, Chief Strategy and Customer Officer, Go Ahead Group and Dr Paul Herriotts, Professor of Transport Design, National Transport Design Centre, Coventry University. The discussion focused on the issue of encouraging the use of public transport whilst ensuring customer safety and security. 

Main points raised:

  • The pandemic has reversed recent campaigns to encourage the use of public transport as the emphasis has shifted to public safety and staying home. With the ambitious task of net zero by 2050, government and industry need to realign messaging to encourage people back out of their cars and towards public transport and active travel.
  • Rebuilding trust with the public; clear communication on route capacity, real-time journey information and cleaning updates could encourage people to board buses and trains again. The ‘theatre of cleaning’ could make people feel safer and secure using public transport.
  • The importance of the passenger experience; customer priority has evolved from comfort to cleanliness during the pandemic. As more people will begin to travel back to workplaces, the future daily commute needs to be more appealing, with a focus on good customer service and safe journeys. 

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Reaching Net Zero: The Role for Consumers

On Wednesday 03 February, we hosted a virtual event chaired by Liz Twist MP, Senior Opposition Whip. She was joined by Professor James Fitchett, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Research, University of Leicester and Dan Brooke, Chief Executive, Smart Energy GB. The discussion focused on the role changing consumer behaviour can play in helping the UK reduce reliance on non-green energy sources.

Main points raised:

  • Public education is critical to the wider adoption of sustainable products and services. When consumers are informed and understand the environmental benefits, they are more willing to make changes despite initial inconveniences.
  • The role of the mainstream and social media in engaging and empowering consumers to make more sustainable decisions and behavioural changes.
  • All consumers can assist in reducing carbon emissions. However, ‘the consumer’ is not one homogeneous group. There are varying barriers to adoption of products and services, in particular, technological literacy and access. Industry and government need to be tailoring their approach when engaging the public

Levelling Up Through Infrastructure

On Monday 08 February, we hosted a virtual event chaired by Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, Infrastructure All-Party Parliamentary Group. She was joined by Simeon Butterworth, Director of Transport Planning, WSP and John Williams, UK Infrastructure Managing Director, Bechtel. The discussion focused on how infrastructure projects can improve quality and capacity in the United Kingdom to enhance lives and power economic growth and development.

Main points raised:

  • The majority of infrastructure decisions are still concentrated in Whitehall. It is important to address the imbalance and enable regional political institutions to utilise local knowledge with greater influence in infrastructure decisions.
  • The impacts of Covid-19, particularly long-term social changes such as how we work, socialise and operate in the long-term. It is important to factor these changes and the UK’s target to reach net zero by 2050 into our infrastructure planning.
  • Greater investment in transport links and developing specialist industries in other areas could assist in levelling up and attracting talent to areas across the UK not just London.

COVID and the Provision of Legal Services

On Tuesday 09 February, we held a virtual event chaired by Sir Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. He was joined by David Greene, President, The Law Society, Peter Duff, Chairman, Shoosmiths, and Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation. The discussion focused on the impact of remote working on the legal sector and the potential role of technology in improving access to justice.

Main points raised:

  • The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in the legal services. Support from government and investment in IT is needed in police stations, prisons, and courts.
  • The impact on staff well-being is an ongoing concern including the challenge of working from home while balancing childcare responsibilities, and the unsustainable financial set up for barristers working in criminal justice.
  • The sector has to continue to focus on improving diversity and inclusion. For example, how does it ensure more women do not leave the profession over increased working from home burdens?

Improving Research and Development: Creating a British DARPA

On Wednesday 10 February, we hosted a virtual event between parliamentarians, industry representatives and academics entitled ‘Improving Research and Development: Creating a British DARPA.’ The discussion was chaired by Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Digital and welcomed guest speakers Sameer Savani, Head of Innovation and Engineering, ADS Group and Professor James Wilsdon, Director, Research on Research Institute, University of Sheffield. The discussion focused on determining the role and responsibility of APRA/ARIA in the UK.

Main points raised:

  • The UK is a global leader in science despite its smaller size. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted UK strengths with the swift production of vaccines and other health devices. To maintain this reputation and future economic wellbeing, more investment is needed into the sector.
  • The foundation of ARPA or ARIA should not duplicate existing R&D infrastructure but rather tap into those resources with a focus on high risk, high reward research challenges. As a much smaller agency compared to the US, projects need to be more specific to sectors whilst acknowledging failure is essential for innovation. The right success measurement metrics are needed to foster ambitious behaviours.
  • Allocation of funding and accountability on project decisions is still to be determined. The prioritisation of ‘moonshot’ projects and assessing which research receives capital will be a key challenge.
  • The pandemic has highlighted the strength of partnerships and collaboration across industry, government and academia but has also caused a challenge for the next generation of scientists. How can we ensure funding is available for future academic research?