Cameron's big business jobs shindig is only a start

The PM is schmoozing the bosses of some of the UK's biggest firms today - but he mustn't forget small businesses...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
David Cameron welcomes 19 major employers to Downing Street today, to discuss how to create more jobs in the private sector. The likes of John Lewis, Microsoft, McDonalds, Shell, Balfour Beatty, Centrica and the major supermarkets will all be treading crumbs into the carpet at Number 10, to get involved in what Dave is calling the ‘most pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda ever unleashed by a government’.
Sounds impressive. And you can’t argue with the logic behind today's shindig: in order to create the number of private sector jobs needed to power the recovery, these big guns need to be recruiting in droves. And they're talking a good game: Morrisons reckons it will create 6,000 new jobs in 2011, with Tesco promising 9,000 and Sainsbury's 6,500. John Lewis and Microsoft have signed up to 4,000 new jobs each, while Asda has pledged to create 15,000 retail apprenticeships. Makes a change from more headlines about swingeing cuts.
But while schmoozing corporate big-wigs is a start, more work needs to be done at the other end of the scale too. After all, small businesses need help if they’re to stand any chance of becoming the large employers of the future. Fail to give them the proper conditions for growth now and, in the long run, the rest of the country could still wind up stuffed like a pepper on a Downing Street canapé tray.
Luckily the Government seems to have cottoned on to this. It's launched a review that could lead to a new ‘employers’ charter’, the aim being to improve the flexibility of the labour market and make life easier for businesses - possibly by excluding smaller firms from some of the more stringent employment laws.
One option apparently under discussion is to make it easier to hire and fire staff, by (inter alia) doubling the time someone must be employed before they can bring an unfair dismissal claim from one to two years. Last time this kind of rise came in – back in the 80s – job figures went up. Another possibility would be to require anyone bringing a case to an employment tribunal to pay a fee, which they'd get back if they won. The length of time that firms have to pay statutory sick pay may also be reduced.
This kind of thing might horrify unions, but it could be good news for small employers who are struggling to make ends meet. And it'll be good for the economy, if relaxing the rules promotes growth and encourages a new generation of entrepreneurs. Who, one day, might also be eating canapes at Number Ten.

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