FPC members started the year bright and early with our first meeting last week. We cancelled our December meeting so we could all focus on North Shropshire, so this was our first meeting since November.
Big areas of focus for FPC this year will be further work on our messages and key policies to support them, leading up eventually to the Manifesto for the next General Election; and our substantial programme of working groups developing policies in politically useful areas, to bring to autumn conference.
We started with a discussion with Richard Benwell, chair of the group on the natural environment. We discussed a wide range of elements here, from land and marine management, to the links to the planning regime, the role of the wider economic and financial framework in supporting sustainability, the government's strategic arrangements for managing the natural environment, and the relationship to climate change action. The group is developing some really interesting ideas, which it will be consulting the party on at spring conference. If you're interested in this area, please do read and respond to this - it's always the most effective moment to influence its proposals before they become fairly fixed by the time they come to Conference.
Next we discussed the work of the homes and planning group with FPC member and Cumbria councillor Peter Thornton who is leading this. Some key themes of the discussion here included, unsurprisingly, the need for the planning of local homes to meet the needs of local community, and increasing housing supply significantly, including specifically social and council housing. Tenants' rights, rent reform, and the pros and cons of right to buy were all discussed, as was the central role of finance and mortgage availability to house prices and building plans. A key question for this group is around the right scale of ambition for increasing housing, and they will be consulting widely on this, again at spring conference.
We had an in-depth discussion of our motion for spring conference on the future of the UK's trading relationship with the EU. The direction of our strategic ambition is clear and we have quite a large number of detailed specific proposals to make for progress in the short term as well. The tone we take as we make them is also a politically crucial question for us a party, and is something we discussed again this week with both Layla Moran, foreign affairs spokesperson, Duncan Brack, chair of this group, and others, reflected in our final motion for spring conference.
Our last substantive business was an excellent discussion with Judith Jolly, the chair of the group bringing forward proposals for a more caring society. We discussed many aspects of this, including providing care to adults with learning disabilities and the costs associated with this. It's clear however that the most difficult question in this remit will be the view we take on providing care for the elderly and how this is funded. FPC encouraged the group to think boldly about possible solutions to this at this stage and, again, the group will be consulting party members fully about this at spring conference - so please do contribute your views!
With a little discussion about committee housekeeping issues that finished us off for the evening. We are pleased that Lucy Nethsingha, one of the two vice chairs of the committee, will now be representing FPC to the Federal People Development Committee (FPDC), in a new role aimed at helping to link up our own work on engaging party members with that committee which oversees it more broadly.