Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 62)

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001

MS SUSAN ANDERSON, MR SIMON BARTLEY AND MR ROB COLLINGE

Chairman

  60. We are not going to let governments or employers stop the rest of us screwing the system in one way or another, that really would be a terrible society in which to live! I was highly entertained by Rob's picture of GSK having such family friendly policies they are going to employ somebody to go around telling everybody to spend more time with their family on a Friday. It is very impressive you take your family friendly policies that far. Can we draw the session towards a close and perhaps I can put to you the same questions I put to the TUC about parental leave. What do you say about how widely it has been taken up and how could the present arrangements be improved?
  (Ms Anderson) I think it is still very early days. As the TUC has said, take-up so far has been relatively limited. I think that is partly because the system is new, people are unsure about their rights. One of the issues of course is that the people who are most likely to take it up, to be honest, are going to be working mothers rather than fathers. It is still a fact that it is the mothers who have the primary child care responsibilities. It has only been in around 18 months and most of those women will have returned to work six months after their child was born and a lot of them are not going to be interested in having another period of leave. So it is too early to say what impact it is having in terms of meeting employees' wishes to have some flexibility and what impact it is having in terms of any disruption on employers. I think the jury is out on this one. Certainly we have not had companies coming to us saying, "This has been a big problem for us."

  61. To what extent do you think employers are aware of all these changes we have been talking about?
  (Ms Anderson) I think it is very varied. I am sure all large firms have got an HR director, an HR team, people who are briefing them daily about another new right. Certainly this week the HR department would have been busy telling their people about the new rights the Government has in line for them. Then we have the small and medium sized firms and they will be getting information from their trade association and from the Government. As Simon said, for many small employers you can go for a long period without employing anybody who wants to go off on maternity leave and many of these rights will only kick in once someone returns from maternity leave, and things can change, and to be honest it would be a rather foolish SME who spent all his time engrossed in the riveting publications from the DfEE, the DSS or the Inland Revenue. It tends to be that they are put on the shelf until they are needed. The difficulty is that sometimes they lose their sell-by-date and when you are faced with a situation you have to rush around and find out what the rights are. Yes, there is still a certain amount of ignorance amongst smaller employers, but I do not think that is necessarily something we should condemn because it is perfectly appropriate. You do not have to be a walking text book on the rules concerning maternity and the expected week of confinement when all these rules kick in. I think the time to do that is when you are presented with a case. Why not be ignorant until you have to do something. When you have to do something you might need a hand to hold you through the whole experience, but ignorance is not a bad policy. When you have to find out about it, do it then. The chances are that things will have changed anyway since that booklet was pushed through your door.
  (Mr Bartley) There is a fear that the more booklets which are dropped through the door, the less likely anybody is to read them the first time round and put them on the shelf. Eventually you get to recognise the brown envelope it comes in. It may well go into the bin rather than on to the shelf because you think, "I'll deal with it when it happens; not another rule." There is a real danger of almost dumbing-down small businessmen about legislation if there is too much of it.

  62. Changing regulations or bringing in new ones is clearly putting a burden on businesses, particularly small businesses. Is there any way, apart from just telling Governments they must not bring in any more or they must not change any more, in which you can advise Governments to make regulations more business-friendly?
  (Mr Bartley) Keep it simple or make it simpler. The consultation process is quite a good way of bringing in ideas from small and large businesses which perhaps are not thought of by drafters of Bills and some civil servants. Certainly some of the 16 things we have talked about earlier—16 and 47—have been done very, very well by the Government. There has been some superb consultation, some very good help lines, documentation, which have helped businesses and employees understand what is going on. Some have been put through in a bit of a rush, some of them from my perspective seem to have the aim of unloading a bit of responsibility, a bit of bureaucracy, a bit of cost on to businesses from central government, whether it is the Inland Revenue or one of the other departments. That does not help small businesses. Doing things through established routes relating to PAYE, NIC, VAT is actually a better way than actually getting small businesses or all businesses having to do a whole series of new procedures and regulations themselves. The easiest thing from a payroll point of view is having a change of payroll coding come through the door and it being put on to the computer or into the book when doing the wages. Having to fill in a whole load of forms on a weekly basis and applying for things separately or grants or exemptions is actually bureaucratic. Anything the Government can do to build on or add to (without encouraging you to build on or add to) is much better than bringing in new procedures, especially for small businesses where time is the most precious commodity. Anything which is new adds to the time burden and that time burden adds to the feeling of being swamped by bureaucracy and red tape.
  (Mr Collinge) This Government has been quite successful in moving this forward, with the support of the Civil Service. Perhaps the working time rules which were introduced were a little bureaucratic and difficult but after that the national minimum wage regulations were substantially simplified during the consultation process and were much easier to implement. In numerous bits of legislation and consultation processes, the Civil Service has taken note of this and tried to simplify it. I do think the Government has been successful in trying to simplify it. The one area I still think where we have a bit of difficulty is when the final regulations are published, they are often implemented very rapidly after that date, so you see what they look like in the final form and then two days later you actually have to do it. So a longer period between finalisation of regulation and the time at which you have to have the process in place to make it all happen would be helpful.

  Chairman: Simon said that time is a very precious commodity. I am very aware we have probably used too much of your time already, even though, as I said to the TUC, we have really only scratched the surface of this whole debate. Thank you for what has proved to be a very lively afternoon, both with the TUC and the CBI, and we look forward to future debates. Thank you.





 
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