This week it laid out its new legislative programme and it was pleasing to see a commitment to enterprise. Promoting economic stability, reducing the tax and regulatory burden and providing a well-educated population and encouraging continuous training for the workforce are all things business needs from government.
Changes to capital gains tax, abolition of crown preference in insolvency cases, reviews of ‘enterprise and business’ in education and the planning system were all welcome. However, there was no real commitment on the problem of higher tax burden on business since 1997 and the increasing regulation of the labour market.
There is little doubt the rising tide of labour market regulations are contributing to a decline in the UK’s international competitiveness without contributing to improvement in the workplace or working life. But to be fair, the new trade and industry secretary does have a grasp of the economic realities facing British industry.
In her recent speech, Patricia Hewitt opened up an important debate, criticising the jobs-for-life culture, still so prevalent in certain quarters.
What matters in the long term is not the preservation of unneeded jobs, but the continuous creation of worthwhile jobs with a workforce equipped for new opportunities.
Rather than pursuing job protection campaigns, resorting to industrial action from which no-one benefits, unions should work with employers to retrain members for the challenges ahead.
Hewitt is correct to say that employability for life is what now matters, not protected employment in a job which is no longer wanted. Skills training should become more extensive throughout business and industry.
A recent Institute of Directors policy document pointed out the UK continues to produce a small proportion of vocationally trained people. Only 14% of British employees have intermediate level vocational qualifications compared to 46% of German employees. This is regrettable because investment in skills can enhance productivity, improve staff morale and cut staff turnover. The government speaks with desire about creating an enterprise culture. Now we will see if they understand how to turn the rhetoric into reality.
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