In recent weeks the Liberal Democrats have published a Business Manifesto and a policy paper on workplace rights.
These papers set out how we will create a more business-friendly economic climate, with specific policies designed to address the disproportionate burden which falls on small business through regulations and business rates.
Our priority is creating a working environment that promotes fairness, equality and growth. Our aim is to provide a balance between employee rights and the requisites needed for a flourishing economy. In other words, we believe in ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work’.
The UK has a fluid labour market which contributes significantly to our economic strengths. We have welcomed the development of more flexible working practices but want safeguards built in to the system to prevent employers circumventing employment legislation as a result. Flexible working is not an excuse to impose conditions on people which are unacceptable to those in full-time employment.
We want to make workplaces more responsive to workers who have a young family or care responsibilities by allowing employees to have a say in positive changes to their work environment through measures such as greater workplace consultation.
I have noted growing concerns about the lack of rights of agency workers. The Liberal Democrats would make the agency, rather than the company using the temporary worker, responsible for ensuring employee’s rights are met in full.
We are very concerned about the administrative burden companies of all sizes are having to shoulder and have proposals to ease that burden. For instance, the Liberal Democrats will reform support for first time mothers taking maternity leave, relieving small businesses in particular from the costs of providing and administering the benefit.
With the growth of tribunals, trade unions are playing a vital role in representing their members and obtaining redress. The Liberal Democrats view trade unions as an important stakeholder in the economy and support their work in securing better training for their members, although we do not believe unions should have a privileged, statutory position.
The Liberal Democrats believe diversity in the workforce adds to productivity. We will end compulsory retirement and grant older workers protection under unfair dismissal rights and modernising pensions to allow people to retire gradually. We will end unnecessarily discriminatory job adverts. We also want to see a Single Equality Act brought in to consolidate piecemeal anti-discrimination legislation.
The Liberal Democrats will institute a better regulatory process, cutting back the administrative burden. New regulations will have an independent impact assessment and those affecting business will include a sunset clause. As small businesses are most vulnerable in their first 18 months, we will review red tape to consider which need not apply to start-ups.
A key thread to our business policy is the abolition of the Department of Trade and Industry to simplify and clarify the role of government in relation to business. In abolishing the DTI the Liberal Democrats will cut away its bureaucratic and wasteful functions and transfer the DTI’s useful functions to other departments (so for example employment will go to the DWP).
We will consult business on how to make the current complicated tax system both simpler and fairer. We will also address the problem of business rates impacting disproportionately on small businesses by introducing a business rates allowance, representing an annual saving of over £600 for the majority of small businesses with a rateable value of less than £25,000.
While we are seeking to free business from Government micro-management we recognise the Government has a major role to play in addressing low skills and shortages of trained workers.
The Liberal Democrats will equip school leavers with the kind of skills employers really need. From the age of 14 we will give pupils greater choice of how they continue their education, including the option of an apprenticeship or other accredited workplace training scheme. We will also give the under-25s the right to time off for training and education.
When labour shortages leaves jobs unfilled our economy suffers. Immigration offers us opportunities to fill skills gaps.
The Liberal Democrats will replace the work visa system with a fairer one based on green cards with a set number of economic migrants, based on the needs of the economy.
I want to promote the positive contribution immigrants will continue to make to the British economy. We are a richer society as a result of immigration – culturally, socially and economically.