Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
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
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 earlier16 and 47have
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.