Impact of COVID-19 on weddings reinforces need for marriage law reforms, experts say

Coronavirus disruption to weddings has highlighted the complexity and antiquity of marriage law and reinforced the need for reform, a new study shows.

During the pandemic the ease and speed with which couples were able to marry has depended on their chosen route into marriage – religious or civil – experts have found.

Rules to prevent the spread of the pandemic attempted to strike a balance between getting married as a legal event and a wedding as a social event, and this has failed to please anyone, according to the research.

As lockdown loomed, couples marrying in the Anglican church were able to apply for a common or special licence rather than waiting to have their banns read. During the first lockdown alone, the Church of England’s Faculty Office issued 104 special licences in order to enable the marriages of those who were terminally ill, or who had a close family member who was terminally ill, whereas it would normally issue only 40 for this purpose in a whole year. By contrast, the Registrar-General – who is responsible for civil weddings – issued fewer licences than usual for this purpose.

The research was carried out by Professor Rebecca Probert, from the University of Exeter, and Dr Stephanie Pywell, from The Open University. They surveyed 1,449 people whose plans to marry in England and Wales had been affected by COVID-19 during the first lockdown in summer 2020.

Of these, 625 had been unable to marry on their intended wedding date as it fell during the period of lockdown. Just 10 managed to bring the date forward and marry before the start of lockdown, while 615 had to postpone their plans. A further 793 couples had been planning to marry between the end of lockdown and the end of 2020 and had had to change their plans in some way.

The remainder had either been prompted to marry in England and Wales on account of COVID-19, or had decided to postpone their wedding indefinitely, were no longer planning to marry, or were unable to marry.

The limited number of venues in which couples can marry made it impossible for most couples to marry during the pandemic, although they were able to do so in some other countries. We argue that the laws governing marriage in England and Wales must be fit for purpose in the twenty-first century, so that couples can marry with relative ease if there is a similar nationwide crisis in the future.

Dr Stephanie Pywell
Senior Lecturer, The Open University Law School

The survey asked couples whether they would have wanted to marry in a virtual ceremony. One in 11 said they would have considered a wedding via video-link had this been available. Couples were also asked if they would have been willing to marry in a socially-distanced ceremony with the minimum number of persons present required by law for a valid marriage. One in nine would have been happy to do so outdoors, and one in seven would have considered doing so indoors if different households were separated by screens. Overall, one in five would have considered at least one of these options.

The researchers say all these options deserve serious consideration, and that legislation should be amended to make this option available during any future emergency.

For those couples who simply wanted to be married, having to wait until weddings were permitted to go ahead with 30 guests was particularly frustrating, especially since pubs, restaurants, and gyms had been able to open earlier. Allowing marriages to go ahead earlier, with the minimum number of persons required by law, would have mitigated some of their anger and upset.

Dr Stephanie Pywell
Senior Lecturer, The Open University Law School

Reform is clearly needed, but any such reform has to be holistic rather than piecemeal, and we hope that our findings will strengthen the case for making weddings law simpler and more flexible for the future. The fact that for much of 2020 and for 2021 so far couples were either unable to marry, or unsure as to whether their planned wedding would go ahead, led many to reflect on just how important it was to them. A wedding should be available to couples at the best and worst of times.

Professor Rebecca Probert
Professor of Law, University of Exeter

Well done to Cristina on her viva success

Congratulations to Cristina Mititelu who passed her PhD viva on 7 May 2021 with her thesis, ‘The commissioning for social value and voluntary sector organizations: tensions in implementation’. The panel was chaired by Prof Les Budd, the external examiner was Prof Joyce Liddle (Northumbria University) and the internal examiner was Dr Francesca Calo. Cristina’s supervisors are Dr Alessandro Sancino, Prof Edoardo Ongaro and Prof Siv Vangen. She plans to attend the International Society for Third-Sector Research conference in July to present a paper based on the findings of her PhD, and also intends to submit a paper for publication to a journal based on her thesis findings.

Alessandro deserves his place in the top 40

An OUBS academic has been named as one of the best 40 under-40 business school professors by the prestigious Poets&Quants. Now in its ninth year, this identifies the most talented young professors currently teaching in MBA programmes around the world.

 Dr Alessandro Sancino is a Senior Lecturer in Management with OUBS and Associate Professor at the University of Milan-Bicocca. Alessandro was one of the most nominated professors and most impactful researchers, with more than three dozen nominations and nearly 1,200 Google Scholar citations. With American institutions dominating the list, Alessandro’s balance of strong research background and classroom effectiveness ensured he is in good company alongside academics from the likes of Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

More than 2,200 nominations were received for nearly 150 professors this year with each nominee evaluated on teaching (70%) and research (30%). Once the professors were scored, the 60 outstanding ones were trimmed down to the top 40.

It’s good to see The Open University name alongside some of the world’s top institutions, and I’d like to acknowledge the great support I received from my OU colleagues who nominated me after hearing of this opportunity. It’s fantastic to be representing research areas in business schools such as social enterprise, collaborative governance and public leadership. I am currently researching the role of local and place-based leadership and how to organise at the local level for social impact and around grand challenges.

Dr Alessandro Sancino, Senior Lecturer in Management

Read Alessandro’s profile here – and the other talented academics here.

With the largest team of journalists covering business schools, Poets&Quants publishes more articles, series and videos on MBA programmes and management education than any other media outlet in the world.

Resetting trust in work

The pandemic cast a spotlight on much-hyped corporate purpose statements. In the glare of scrutiny, when the chips were down, organisations saw an uncomfortable question come to the fore: were they living up to the ideals they espoused? Some clearly weren’t.

Remote working has shown that many managers and businesses struggle to trust workers when out of sight. Or indeed expect them to work relentlessly. Investment bank Goldman Sachs recently made headlines for the horrendous workloads of its younger staff, some of whom were burning out due to hellish 18-hour shifts.

Crisis tends to hold a mirror up to organisational ethics and responsibilities, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly revealing when it comes to what organisations say about their responsibilities towards their employees and other stakeholders and what they actually do when times get tough. In some ways the uncertainty and resource scarcity frequently associated with crisis events magnify what is and what isn’t working within an organisation, says Dr Layla Branicki, senior lecturer in HRM and organisation studies at The Open University Business School.

“In a recent study my co-authors Dr Senia Kalfa and professor Stephen Brammer and I found evidence to suggest that if there was underlying antagonism between employers and employees about pay and conditions prior to COVID-19 the chances are that these experiences have been intensified throughout the crisis,” says Branicki. “In contrast, for some organisations their handling of COVID-19 suggests a congruence between their values and actions, as they have gone to extraordinary lengths to provide safe and flexible working conditions during the crisis.”

It’s important to underline that while there have been notable examples of organisations squandering trust, many employers have succeeded in burnishing their reputation during the pandemic. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer goes so far as to describe employers as a “mainstay of trust” given that globally they outperform governments and the media, with business more trusted than government in 18 of 27 countries. Notably, trust in ‘my employer’, at 76%, scores even higher than trust in business in general (61%).

HR has to be a guardian of culture and purpose, but every part of the organisation needs to do the same. HR is, however, uniquely positioned to facilitate that culture by keeping a finger on the pulse of employee sentiment, helping the organisation hold itself accountable for how well culture and purpose are penetrating.

“Overall, the employee experience is key to trust,” observes Heather Cooper, chief people officer at financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown. “As we’re coming out of lockdown, we’re really making sure to listen to colleagues about what they need, whether that results in recruiting more staff into service areas or making sure there is a hybrid model of home and office working in the future. I’m laser-focused on assisting managers in continuing to create the right culture throughout the colleague journey, from the point where we put out a job advert through to when colleagues leave us or retire.”

The rise of environmental, social and governance (ESG) as a factor in investment decision making means businesses that cannot substantiate the claims they make regarding sustainability are skating on very thin ice. Alan May, chief people officer at information technology firm Hewlett Packard Enterprise, agrees that ESG is of increasing interest to both directors and investors. In his view, a big part of ESG is how you treat people – internal and external to the organisation. Building a culture of trust therefore isn’t a ‘nice to have’ – stakeholders today expect it. It may be that, just over 50 years since economist and Noble laureate Milton Friedman argued that the business of business is to make a profit the dial is finally shifting towards value being determined by improving outcomes for a broader set of stakeholders, such as an organisation’s workers, suppliers and society as a whole.

“HR has to be a guardian of culture and purpose, but every part of the organisation needs to do the same,” argues May. “HR is, however, uniquely positioned to facilitate that culture by keeping a finger on the pulse of employee sentiment, helping the organisation hold itself accountable for how well culture and purpose are penetrating.”

HR professionals often find themselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place of employer and employee interests, and this has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current crisis has precipitated the need for both urgent HR actions – such as enabling a rapid move to mass homeworking – and what will likely be enduring changes to how and where work is done while refraining from monitoring homeworkers through technology or regular online meetings to check noses were kept to the grindstone.

While HR professionals have played a key role in helping employees navigate these changes, they have also been directly affected by them. A recent Open University Business School study found that some HR managers were themselves experiencing workplace precarity. Under certain conditions, this made it difficult for them to speak up against proposed changes that were not perceived as congruent with an organisation’s culture and values.

“At the same time,” says Branicki of this study, “many of the HR managers we spoke to were optimistic about a more inclusive and sustainable future and had found strategies that enabled them to feel empowered when necessary to challenge their organisation despite the challenging conditions. These strategies included articulating the long-term implications of short-term decisions, leveraging the external perceptions of organisational actions, and handling uncertainty on behalf of other employees. COVID-19 shows us that HR managers continue to play a pivotal role in determining how responsible organisations and their leaders continue to be.”

Dr Oleg Konovalov, author of THE VISION CODE: How To Create And Execute A Compelling Vision For Your Business, takes the view that ‘resetting’ trust involves three critical elements: listening to people, confidence and credibility, and enabled decision making. People will, he maintains, engage only if the company is fully engaged in them. If no care exists in relation to employees, then no engagement can be expected in return.

“Care is a verb expressing actions for others, in which involvement in people, concern for their future, emotional comfort, physical comfort and safety are critical elements,” says Konovalov. “The real nature of the company and its vision is seen in its ability to care for people. No team can execute a vision if the culture is fragmented and everyone is pulling in his or her own direction. Only people who combine their energy together can achieve great goals.”

Paul Hucknall, HR director at wealth management company Quilter, concurs on the importance of listening, asserting that the best businesses are the ones that took time to listen to their people when the world went into lockdown. The process of “active listening”, he elaborates, is taken seriously at Quilter, including through weekly micro-surveys to check sentiment among its people on a range of issues.

These employee soundings play into many of the FTSE-250 company’s initiatives, one of which is the development of its Thrive wellbeing programme. Hucknall also believes the thorny issue of reward has a big impact on trust and that many businesses need to take a more holistic view on remuneration. “In terms of reward, there have been numerous examples in recent history of poorly designed incentive schemes that put short term rewards ahead of other stakeholders and have decimated consumer trust. And while that trust arrived on foot, it leaves on an express train. To build back trust, remuneration should be linked to the values you expect people to uphold and designed to promote reward structures that encourage appropriate behaviour, avoid excessive risk taking and support the creation of sustainable value.”

Manufacturing conglomerate Halma was named Britain’s Most Admired Company in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the business is big on purpose, which it articulates succinctly as growing a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day. Jennifer Ward, chief talent and communications officer, says the board plays a vital role in ensuring the group’s alignment with its values, purpose and strategy, offering constructive challenge and diversity of thought. Because of the strategic importance of purpose to Halma’s strategy, the board plays an active role in ensuring that as the business grows, it does so in a way that fulfils its purpose. Part of this entails maintaining a constructive and ongoing dialogue with investors increasingly focused on ESG issues.

In keeping with Konovalov’s point on enabled decision making being a fundamental criterion for building trust, Halma is a big believer in empowering its workforce. “Our model is to bet on talented people and allow them to make critical strategic and operational decisions,” says Ward. “This fundamentally places the trust at all levels in our organisation and our belief is that our employees will do the right thing. We have also found that establishing peer networks – where employees can connect and share their experiences and best practice across the globe – is an effective way to empower.”

It’s easier to sustain trust than it is to repair it and this poses a significant responsibility challenge because without trust it’s unlikely that employees will feel empowered to hold their organisation to account. While resetting trust is massively challenging, taking an inclusive approach to decision making that involves not only employees but other key stakeholders can be a useful first step, as it signifies that an organisation is willing to have the challenging conversations necessary to move forward.

“Silencing dissent and concealing conflict may seem to reduce antagonism between stakeholders in the short run but, as the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated, organisational problems seldomly stay hidden,” says Branicki. “The true path to trust comprises openness, employee care and empowerment and consistent adherence to corporate values.”

The Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures group (REEF) is proud to be partnering with The People Space. This article was originally published on The People Space website; click to read the original article.

Academy of Management recognition for Jeanette

Congratulations to Jeanette Hartley who has had a paper accepted for the virtual 81st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM) on 29 July – 4 August this year. Her paper, ‘Management Consultants Navigating Competing Systems of Engagement’, was judged by AOM’s reviewers to be one of the best accepted papers in the programme. This entitles the paper to be published in the Proceedings of the 2021 Academy of Management Meeting.

Jeanette is a full-time PhD student who is supervised by Professor Richard Holti and Dr Giacomo Carli and is also an Associate Lecturer (B207: Shaping Business Opportunities).

A letter to First Years

Open Justice student and regular blog contributor Dona Mclachlan shares her experience of studying law at The Open University with students who are first starting out on their OU journey.

As you stand at the foot of the mountain of higher education, some of you may be on a familiar climb others new to the experience. Looking forward to the summit at the top may seem a daunting task, a seemingly impossible, long, difficult feat. Gain comfort from the knowledge that many have gone before you and succeeded in their endeavour. Some of you will sprint through in three years or less, others will take six years or longer. Timing matters not, this is your journey, enjoy it. You are about to embark on a life changing experience, embrace the challenges, you will overcome each and every one, celebrate the victories no matter how small.

There are numerous things you can do to assist yourself, start by not looking at the entire course syllabus for the degree, focus instead on what you can do today to further your studies. Today is all we have make the most of it even if it is just reading on your way to work, or spending 30 min after putting the children to bed. Every minute counts towards the climb to the finish.

Learn your way around the OU website, that is your campus, walk around virtually, know where to find things. Familiarity leads to calm assurance you can access your first tutorial ‘room’ or student services when you need some IT help. Make sure your technology is up to the job of finishing your course with anxiety free ease.

Most importantly join in, don’t be bashful. You will find the first face to face tutorial that took so much courage to attend is not full of glamorous super smart people who know all the answers, but individuals exactly like you with just as many uncertainties. You are not too old, too young, or too anything,  you are just perfect as a student. Those tutorials are not mandatory but so important to success, the data supports the fact students who attend and contribute to tutorials both face to face and online are more likely to achieve higher marks. Plus it is fun and  fantastic to meet other like minded students who you can study with. These fellow students are your network and can be support as you progress through the degree.

Get involved with the University, run for student office, join the law society, moot, mentor. The more you get involved the more you learn about the University, the tutors, the heads of the different departments. These individuals will assist you with personal references in the future if applicable, or offer guidance through some tough decisions about your future career. They have insight into many things and are accessible if you only just step up and make yourself known. Additionally you will feel a connection to your university and your peers that rivals a bricks and mortar university, a pride of place.  

Embrace the library, you are a university student now, develop a haughty disdain for google, you are above that. You will be given access to some very comprehensive databases. It is important you learn how to research in these databases with speed to not only to complete your degree but prepare yourself for the working world in your chosen profession.

Believe in yourself, you have got this. Everyone suffers from self-doubt particularly in that first module. Know the degree programme has been designed for success, the OU want you to succeed, your tutor wants you to succeed. 50 years of remote teaching experience and delivering material has gone into your course of study. You will be a success if you put the effort in.  

One day seemingly soon you will realize you are at the summit of achievement having accomplished with relative ease a feat you thought so daunting an impossibility at the beginning. You will have become not only more educated and more employable but a supercharged version of your former self, the best you can be. As you look from your summit the vista will reveal other mountains to climb only this time self-doubt and trepidation are absent because you know how to succeed, you are an Open University graduate!

Dona is an OU law student who is currently studying W360 ‘Justice in action’ and regularly contributes to the Open Justice blog. As well as blogging, Dona enjoys cold water swimming.

New Director of FBL’s Research Degrees Programme

The new Director of the FBL Research Degrees Programme is Dr Nicoleta Tipi who will work with incumbent Prof Emma Bell over the next few months before taking up her role on 1 August 2021. The Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain in the OU Business School was appointed following interviews at the end of February. Prior to joining the OU in October 2020, Nicoleta gained extensive experience with all aspects relevant to the role, working with students and colleagues across different discipline areas including management, leadership, law, accounting and marketing. She was Deputy Director of Graduate Education for the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Huddersfield for five years.

Viva success for Akash

Congratulations to Akash Puranik who passed his viva with very minor corrections on Wednesday 10 March 2021 with his thesis, ‘The Human Work of Collaboration: Towards an Understanding of Informal Unstructured Collaborative Projects’. The panel was chaired by Dr Anja Schaefer, the internal examiner was Dr Nik Winchester and the external examiner was Dr Christina Schwabenland (University of Bedfordshire). Akash’s supervisors are Prof Siv Vangen and Dr Carol Jacklin-Jarvis.

Resetting equality in work

At the start of the first UK lockdown, way back in March 2020, it became rather fashionable to reflect on how we were ‘all in this together’, all impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

It didn’t take long for the cracks to show. What soon became painfully, obviously, clear was that while we might all be in the same storm, we are in very different boats – and some have sprung a leak. Inequalities weren’t exactly hidden pre-COVID, but the pandemic has exposed just how deep and entrenched they run in society.

It’s not hard to find stark evidence for this. The Institute for Employment Studies recently revealed that the UK’s lowest-paid workers were more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs in the pandemic than higher-paid employees. And research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that the pandemic has hit the lowest paid hardest financially too.

Meanwhile, black and ethnic minority workers are not only a staggering 26 times more likely to have lost their jobs than white employees, according to the TUC, but people from ethnic minority backgrounds are also twice as likely to die from COVID. That’s partly due to being overrepresented in lower paid, frontline jobs: people in some of these roles are more than three times more likely to be killed by the virus.

What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society

And then there’s the impact the pandemic has had on young people and women. An LSE study found that young people have been hardest hit by COVID-related job losses, potentially leading to damaging long-term unemployment. Women have been forced back into more traditional caring roles, either working from home while juggling home schooling and caring responsibilities or because many of the hardest hit sectors provide ‘service’ jobs more often filled by women.

“It’s plunged a lot of women in particular into the ranks of the working poor, while the working poor who were already in that category have become poorer,” says Jo Brewis, professor of people and organisations at The Open University Business School and a member of the research cluster Gendered Organisational Practice which sits within the academic centre of excellence REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures). 

“Women are over-represented in sectors like personal care which cannot always be done from home. Some have been able to furlough but that isn’t always economically sufficient. And then the notion that somehow the domestic division of labour has changed dramatically over the last few decades – well, the data just does not bear that out at all. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society

In addition, she notes, the pandemic has highlighted how complex and varied experiences of inequality are. More than 30 years after Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia and UCLA, coined the term intersectionality as a way of seeing how various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on how some people are subject to a wide range of inequalities.

“For example,” says Brewis, “if you look at data on women employees during the pandemic and the data on employees of colour during the pandemic, you can see that women of colour have been worse off as a result of the intersection of race and gender than either men of colour or other women.”

Meanwhile, if you add in having a disability the picture is even bleaker. A survey by UK disability charity Leonard Cheshire in October 2020 found that 71% of disabled people in employment in March that year were affected by the pandemic through loss of income, being put on furlough or being made redundant. This rose to 84% of those aged 18-24. Moreover, 42% of employers polled said a barrier to hiring disabled workers was the concern that they would not be able to properly support them through the pandemic, while 20% admitted they would be less likely overall to hire someone with a disability. The report said not only were many disabled people clinically at high risk from the virus, but many also worked in sectors hardest hit by the outbreak, including retail and hospitality.

The lowest paid take the highest risks

However, alongside this exposure of inequality has come a recognition of just how essential the services provided by key workers are. Without the carers, the supermarket workers, the refuse collectors and delivery drivers, society would have ground to a halt. As Brewis says: “The pandemic has surfaced our awareness of a wider range of key workers, especially people who work in care homes, who I think were largely invisible to the public beforehand”.

Sharon Benson, HR director at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, agrees that the pandemic has changed perceptions of care workers and the social care sector, putting it on a par with the much-loved NHS. “Frontline care workers have finally been acknowledged and praised for the work they do, for their bravery, passion, commitment and selfless acts of kindness as they look after the thousands of vulnerable people in our society,” she says.

Yet unfairness is baked into this system. As Kate Guthrie, CPO of Virgin Money, puts it: “It’s the people who are the lowest paid that have been taking the most personal risks. Why is it the roles that have been so crucial throughout this pandemic are the ones we value the least?”

And while courier Ethan Bradley, an elected rep of the IWGB, the UK’s leading union for precarious workers, has also seen a change in attitude towards gig workers like himself – “instead of being ‘unskilled’ workers, the pandemic has shown that such workers are essential for society to function, and to allow people to stay at home” – he notes that such workers are still regularly denied basic rights, such as sick pay and PPE provision.

“What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society,” he says.

Indeed, the mixed reaction over the resurrection of the UK’s ‘Clap for Carers’ movement (rebranded ‘Clap for Heroes’) gives some indication of a growing realisation that recognition alone is not enough. As Brewis says: “You can’t eat claps and neither can you use them to pay the rent or household bills. I’m not persuaded by the hero discourse. I don’t think a lot of people in those occupations want to be described as heroes. The heroic discourse almost makes it harder for them to say, actually I feel really unsafe, or I’m really worried about my kids. Yes, these workers are so much more visible. But we haven’t taken anything like enough steps to value them properly and to create a much fairer way of working for them.”

We need a fair work ecosystem

So when we finally come out of this crisis, is it possible to use our experience as a catalyst to redefine what ‘valuable work’ is, and examine how it should be rewarded?

Neil Morrison, HR director at utilities provider Severn Trent, believes this issue is about more than just pay. “It’s about societal value,” he says. “How do we look after these [essential workers]? We need to build a world of work that is based on them and their needs. What is a fair deal for those people? How do we create a society that recognises the value they provide for us?”

The “fair work ecosystem” he envisages goes beyond pay, encompassing security of employment (Morrison references the recommendations made in 2017’s Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, aka the ‘Good Work Plan), autonomy and freedom within work, pensions and retirement plans, and increased regionalisation of employment (rather than people having to travel or move to find work).

At Sunrise, the HR team has changed several policies and introduced new rewards and benefits, in recognition of just how tough it has been to work in care during COVID. Pay has increased to £9.10 an hour minimum, the sick pay policy has moved from statutory sick pay to full sick pay and staff in homes are being provided with free hot meals. Benson says she is “constantly” thinking about how to evolve reward strategies to better recognise frontline staff. “This won’t just apply to financial rewards but in all other areas too,” she says. “We will be looking at the free meals on shift and whether we can make it a more permanent offering, [as well as how we can enhance] transport allowances.”

While it’s encouraging to hear from responsible employers, it cannot be overlooked that many living in poverty in the UK are the working poor, in precarious and low paid employment, often working more than one job and relying on food banks and Universal Credit to top up their income. “We typically think of poverty as something that happens to people not in work but this is an issue that’s affecting our workforce,” says Norman Pickavance, an independent advisor and founder of the Financial Inclusion Alliance. “You can’t have a fair society if you don’t have fair jobs. We continue to operate in a society where the minimum wage is insufficient to support a working family.”

While this is evidently a systemic issue requiring a response at the very highest levels (Pickavance advocates a profound rethink of the UK’s economic strategy, investing in technology and “restoring the dignity of working people”), there are steps organisations can take to reset fairness. Pickavance recommends paying a living wage and providing “living hours”, examining whether the “push for agility has gone too far” through the use of zero-hours contracts, for example, and providing access to low-cost credit and debt management services. Stability is key: “People feel out of control when they don’t know how much money is coming in every month, and 50% of all workplace absences are caused by financial stress.”

To support all this, he believes it would be “beneficial for businesses to think more constructively about the future of trade unions”, as well as encouraging HR professionals to consider models like employee ownership. After several years of decline, union membership appears to be growing again, according to government data, boosted by more women signing up and their increased political capital during the pandemic. IWGB’s membership has surged by 40% since COVID struck. “For frontline workers marginalised by society and abandoned by government during this crisis, unions have stepped up to provide support and representation,” says Bradley.

Post-COVID must be more, not less, inclusive

Beyond redefining the value of low paid roles, the HR profession and business more broadly also need to take steps now to ensure post-COVID workplaces are more genuinely inclusive, not less so. The stats highlighted earlier show just how real the risk is of the diversity and inclusion agenda slipping backwards. However, while acknowledging that women are bearing the brunt of home schooling and that black, Asian and ethnic minority workers are more exposed in frontline roles, diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert Charlotte Sweeney is cautiously optimistic about the potential for improved inclusion in the long-term.

“I was initially nervous that D&I would fall off the agenda,” she says. “However, given the combination of COVID and the death of George Floyd, I see that the D&I agenda has increased in prominence. Many more companies are saying it’s important to them.” But, she caveats: “Let’s see how that translates into meaningful actions.”

Julie Humphreys, head of D&I at publisher Reach PLC, recognises a clear link between wellbeing and inclusion, and wants to see a more holistic approach to both post-COVID. “Mental health is an increasing worry; I am concerned the UK is heading for a real spike in people taking their own life,” she says. She adds that HR professionals need to have the potential impact of long COVID, where people suffer debilitating symptoms for months, if not longer, after becoming infected, on the radar: “There are so many implications, including for D&I…is the Equality Act fit for this new development in disability?”

She also wants to see measurement and reporting come back on the agenda (gender pay gap reporting was controversially scrapped in 2020 thanks to the pressures of the pandemic), with ethnicity pay gap reporting coming into force, and social mobility reporting included in legislation too.

While vaccines offer light at the end of the tunnel, we likely still have many dark days ahead. But this time could be used to radically and genuinely rethink what work could look like for those groups who have suffered the most.

And there is precedence for HR. Brewis says her experience researching menopause and work demonstrates the active role in resetting inequality that HR leaders can play if they listen to employees in their own organisations as well as taking inspiration from other employers: “What I’ve seen time and again is that there’s a viral thing that happens in this space. First movers bring in some form of supportive intervention, not necessarily a policy. Then you begin to see a ripple effect where other employers look at what they’re doing. I don’t really care what their motivations are, if it’s all some form of CSR washing or just a way to make them look good to their customers and employees or to attract new talent. The fact they are doing something to address the issue is good enough and the viral effects can be really quite extraordinary.”

Sweeney urges the people profession to involve everyone in discussions about what the future of work can and should look like.

“Make sure you really do listen to the usually unheard voices,” she says. “Part of this should be renewing the psychological contract with work. Resist the temptation to ‘get back to normal’. We can create great change in times of disruption – take this opportunity with both hands to really push your companies to be more inclusive.”

The Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures group (REEF) is proud to be partnering with The People Space. This article was originally published on The People Space website; click to read the original article.

The post-Brexit amendment to Public Procurement Law: transformative or unchanged provisions?

Dr Miriam Mbah, who joined the OU as a Lecturer in Law in September 2020, has both a LLM and a PhD in Public Procurement Law.

The UK Government published a Green Paper on Transforming public procurement in December 2020. This Green Paper, which proposes to amend procurement law in the UK, was prepared in anticipation of the UK’s departure from the European Union (31 December 2020). In addition to the publication of the procurement Green Paper, a public consultation was issued, inviting comments on the proposal. In this piece, I share my response to two crucial proposals in the Green Paper. This is part of my 10-page response to the public consultation, which closes on Wednesday 10 March, below.

Historically, the regulation of public procurement from 1973 originated from the EU procurement directives and the UK obligation to transpose the directives into national law. Thus, when the end of Brexit was in sight, it was fitting to propose changes to what was the EU approach to procurement regulation. The post-Brexit changes would enable the UK to deliver value for money and meet national objectives that should not conflict with the Government’s obligations to the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement and the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Agreeable transformative proposals

The 82-page Green Paper proposed changes that aim to simplify procurement processes, maximise value for money, and unleash opportunities for small businesses, charities and social enterprises to innovate in public service delivery. Divided into eight chapters, the Green Paper tackles issues such as the principles underlining procurement regulation (chapter 1), the regulatory frameworks (chapter 2), procurement procedures (chapter 3), contract award process (chapter 4), commercial purchasing tools (chapter 5), ensuring open and transparent contracting (chapter 6), procurement challenges and remedies (chapter 7) and contract management (chapter 8).

Overall, I welcome the intention of ‘transforming’ the current procurement regulations to a regime that provides flexibility, equality and is progressive with societal sustainable objectives and technology. The Green Paper represents crucial changes that will advance these objectives and modernise public procurement outside the European Union direction. For example, the proposal to create a single uniformed law will bring together four separate public procurement laws in the UK – the Public Contracts Regulations; Utilities Contracts Regulations; Concession Contracts Regulations; and Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations. This proposal will provide legal certainty by avoiding duplication of provisions and reduce confusion in understanding and applying the procurement rules.

Other transformative proposals include reducing procurement procedures available to buyers from seven similar choices under the current Public Contracts Regulation (PCR) to three procedures. While the reduction will lead to a simplified procurement process, the proposal’s information is not enough to determine the efficacy of the proposed procedures.

Extreme urgency and crisis, two peas in a pod?

The Green Paper’s ambitious objectives were initially approached with enthusiasm and great interest as the proposed reformation represents a divergence from the EU approach. My enthusiasm was met with concerns as I read the proposals from chapter to chapter because some proposals are vague, unnecessary, repetitive, lacking transparency, confusing and not fit to be included in the proposed new regulation.

The Green Paper includes several provisions that are similar to current provisions in the PCR without any new additions or transformative changes to the proposal. For example, in addition to the existing Regulation 32 that enables buyers to disregard the procurement rules in extreme urgency cases brought about by unforeseeable events (for example, Covid-19), para 78-80 of the Green Paper proposes to include a new ground of ‘crisis’ procurement.

There are no significant differences between the existing extreme urgency ground and the proposed crisis ground. Arguably, the crisis ground spells out what the extreme urgency ground is about. For example, extreme urgency is widely drafted to include ‘unforeseeable’ events. In contrast, the proposed crisis ground covers harmful events in everyday life, measures which will protect public morals, safety and human, animal or plant health. Instead of implementing two grounds that mean and achieve the same objectives, the Government should amend Regulation 32 to include these criteria.

Furthermore, the proposed crisis ground does not address crucial issues highlighted during the Covid-19 extreme urgency procurement. For example, lack of transparency as supported in the recent High Court ruling was not effectively addressed, leaving rooms for future poor emergency procurements.

Most economically advantageous tender and most advantageous tender, what’s the difference?

Additionally, chapter 4 of the Green Paper proposes to change the criteria for awarding public contracts from the most economically advantageous tender (MEAT) under the current Regulation 67 to the most advantageous tender (MAT) in para 99-102. So what is MEAT and MAT?

For public buyers to obtain value for money when awarding contracts to suppliers, they should evaluate submitted tenders to determine the price and quality that meets their needs. Under Regulation 67 MEAT criteria, buyers can consider matters such as technical merit, functional characteristics, environmental and social characteristics, after-sales service, technical assistance, delivery date and delivery period or period of completion. In contrast to the proposed MAT criteria, the Government states that buyers ‘can take a broader view of what can be included … in assessing value for money including social value as part of the quality assessment’. From the analysis of both criteria, it is unclear what additional benefit the MAT criteria have over the existing MEAT criteria. Again, these two issues are effectively two peas in a pod as social value explicitly included in Regulation 67.

These examples of unchanged and unnecessary proposals are the tip of the iceberg. The Government should carefully study the consultation responses before implementing any of their proposals to the new public procurement law.