We read of a row between Vince Cable and George Osborne over the ideas in the Beecroft Report. Yesterday the government at last published the document, and told us they are getting on with implementing 17 of the 23 proposals, and are consulting on the others. The Department putting them into place and consulting on the rest is of course the Business Department led by Dr Cable.
Labour had their way with an Urgent Question, so urgent that no-one in the House had yet seen the full report. The Opposition just bashed away against something they called “fire at will”. They seemed to think the government was about to introduce that for all employees, destroying in one simple blow all employee protections.
The Minister answering tried to explain that the Beecroft proposals in this area would only apply to firms with under 10 employees, and did not amount to fire at will anyway. Much employee protection law is supported by the government, and much is mandated by EU law, making it impossible for Parliament to change it without a new relationship with the EU being established first.
Labour pointed out that employees and Unions had been most co-operative at Ellesmere Port to secure the new Vauxhall investment recently announced. They said it showed there was plenty of flexibility already. The government replied that they agreed, but it was still a good idea to look at what it is that puts a lonely entrepreneur off employing their first employee. Perhaps too much employment law and too big a penalty if you get the hiring wrong does keep more people on the dole and mean more businesses never grow beyond sole traders.
Sensible Labour contributors agreed that to be competitive the UK needs a flexible workforce, and claimed that the last Labour government had recognised that. Sensible Coalition MPs said that employees need rights: the aim should not be to return to all powerful employers who can fire on whim or exercise unfair discrimination.
There is plenty of scope to reach some agreement on how to make the employment of new workers by small companies more attractive to employers. It would be helpful in promoting recovery.
I asked how much extra GDP we might get from the full Beecroft. The government said it did not know. I suspect it would be mildly positive, but it is unlikely to be the game changer that tips us into fast growth on its own. That still requires action on issues like banks, credit and energy prices.