The IPA has produced a timely, detailed, coherent report looking back at the ICE Regulations 10 years on.

I say ‘timely’ but there’s an argument that this report is anything but timely. We have a Government, that hasn’t yet committed to developing an industrial strategy and that has embarked on a piece of anti-union legislation for which there was no need. But the IPA report is timely for this reason: At some point – hopefully some point soon – the UK will need to think again about its economic and social model, and when that happens, the role of information and consultation will take centre stage.

We were promised a ‘march of the makers’, but our manufacturing sector is still in recession. We have an economic recovery, but demand is led by consumer spending, with credit expanding at its fastest pace since the economic downturn. Across the OECD, we have the fourth highest level of youth unemployment – that’s the workforce of tomorrow - relative to older workers. The share of full-time employee jobs is still below pre-recession levels.

I support the government’s desire for a strong trade relationship with China. Emerging markets are vital. But to make the most of that relationship, we need to develop the goods and services that China wants to buy. We cannot compete with them on the back of low skills and low wages. We can only compete on the basis of high skills and high value. We need to become more productive.

Information and consultation can make an important contribution to building that high skill, high value, and high productivity economy. As the IPA report shows, employee voice leads to better organisational performance. It leads to improved decision making and less conflict. Employee satisfaction is higher, leading to greater loyalty and commitment. These are all strong reasons for strengthening information and consultation.

There is also a basic democratic reason, for as the TUC argues, employee voice is a good in itself. It is a key part of social justice.

IPA’s report correctly reminds us that, at the time the ICE regulations were introduced, the TUC did have fears that some companies would try to use them to bypass unions. But it is also correct to say that the problem was partly the UK’s culture of adversarialism. Unions were content to believe that managers’ problems were not their problems. The Thatcherite belief in the “right to manage” still loomed large in too many companies.

We simply cannot afford that luxury in today’s world. Compare the UK with Germany, where large companies have employee representatives – usually trade union members – that serve on Supervisory Boards and Works Councils. This allows union’s great influence on company policy, to the benefit of their members.

In 2012, the TUC published a report called German Lessons. This report took evidence from Siemens in Nuremberg to see how information and consultation works in that company.

Siemens had a policy – negotiated with the works council – of time accounts, so during very busy times, employees could credit hours rather than being paid more. When work levels were much lower, employees could work less hours, with credited hours making up the difference. So when the economic downturn hit, and work dried up, employees were protected.

When Siemens introduced its new production system, there was inevitable nervousness on the part of the workforce. However, Harald Kern of the Siemens Works Council told us: “If you implement the production system in the right way, there is more space for employees. It depends that the employees are very involved in the system, they accept it and they work with the system.”

Sceptics of information and consultation often believe that it is a soft option, an attempt to avoid the hard decisions of management. But the Siemens works council used it to protect the workforce during the downturn and to make the company more productive in a way which didn’t threaten employees.

The TUC believes that the UK needs a social market economy. To change our model, we need to change our culture. Strengthened information and consultation an important part of that culture change.

The IPA and the TUC agree that the current trigger mechanism, which requires 10 per cent of employees to vote for information and consultation arrangements, is much too high a hurdle. The TUC believes that a minimum of five employees should be able to request information and consultation, irrespective of the size of the company. In the medium term, we believe there might be a case for works councils once a company reaches a certain size, without the need for a trigger. We believe a basic constitution for a works council should be developed by the government, employers and unions, to ensure that the works council is meaningful.

The IPA report discusses the rising appetite for direct communication among employers and I accept that this could be valuable in some circumstances, but having independent trade unions that are strong enough to say ‘no’ on occasions often leads to better decision making by management.

There is nothing in information and consultation that removes the need for collective bargaining and for more traditional models of trade unionism where necessary. It is a fact of life that management and workforce will sometimes have different interests. But trust built on issues of mutual interest can help tough negotiations on areas of difference.

If I am correct, this debate isn’t going to go away. In fact, the call for a new economic model will only get louder – and the role of workers voice, through the information and consultation of employees, will only become more important.

Ten years on, it is important to look at what information and consultation has achieved and what more needs to be done. The IPA has served a great purpose in producing this report to take that debate further. The TUC looks forward to playing a full part in that discussion.

Tim Page is Senior Policy Officer at the TUC