As an employer, you might expect me to welcome the Beecroft report on changes to employment law.
But I don’t.
There are some decent suggestions in the report but some of the recommendations, especially the idea of "no fault" terminations, are positively Dickensian.
There’s an assumption that all business people think the Beecroft report is good, but I don’t believe that. I think the government is putting these potentially explosive ideas out there to test the water of public and business opinion so it’s important those of us in business make our views known.
Let’s look at that so-called no fault dismissal idea. We already have the option in this country to let someone go in their first six months of employment. Forthcoming changes will extend it to almost two years. Surely, that’s sufficient to work out whether or not someone is going to fit in and perform.
This report is a charter for every unscrupulous business in the country to do whatever it wants in the employment market, including being sexist and racist. Fortunately, it already looks certain that the report’s ideas are limited by EU law.
I can see employment law firms smacking their chops at the fees they would be earning fighting tribunal cases if the report’s recommendations were put in place.
If the idea is to make Britain more competitive, undermining people’s rights is not the way to go about it. The UK already has some of the most flexible employment laws in the world. We should be looking elsewhere for ways to create jobs and growth.
So what should we be doing?
I want to see a two-pronged approach to generating jobs and growth in Britain.
Firstly, let’s make small businesses exempt from the heavy-handed legislation coming out of the EU. That will empower small businesses to employ people and to feel safe about employing them. It’s refreshing to see the EU taking steps in this direction through the Small Business Act and offering to listen and respond to businesses affected by proposed new rules.
Secondly, despite all the noise about our credit rating, our country currently has the opportunity to borrow for the next 30 years at lower rates than we’ve ever had. Here is an opportunity to roll over our existing debt and borrow against the national long-term balance sheet. It’s an opportunity to invest in infrastructure and housing that our country needs. Look at our creaking rail network bulging with passengers and with insufficient freight capacity, forcing more lorries onto our roads. I’d invest right now in High Speed 2 to the northwest and Scotland as well as Birmingham.
A lot of businesspeople reading this will say you shouldn’t borrow, but almost every business borrows to invest for the future when they know that the returns will be greater than the investment. The chancellor’s household domestic analogies are simplistic and inappropriate. The economic development of a country is far more nuanced and complex than paying off your credit card. David Cameron can see that it’s necessary for Europe to have euro bonds but can’t apparently see the case for Britain doing the same. There is no valid reason to say the UK can’t issue infrastructure bonds that would attract pension funds all over the world to invest in our future growth and prosperity.
Of course, all this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to bring down how much of the economy is reliant on the public sector. I believe that we should target to incrementally bring government spending below 30% of GDP.
But austerity in its current form isn’t working. It didn’t work in the 1920s. It led to social and economic collapse followed by World War Two. We have to maintain a level of social order and decency. Expecting people to live in a situation where belts are permanently being tightened is a tough ask. When we start taking away their employment rights as well, we’re asking for trouble.
Arnab Dutt is managing director of polyurethane component manufacturer Texane, which provides wheels for the escalators on the London Underground and other metro systems around the world.