Scrap maternity leave, ignore EU laws: political incorrectness gone mad?

Steve Hilton, the PM's chief policy guru, has come under fire for his radical suggestions. Although, much as we hate to admit it, some might not be totally barmy.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
If you’re a Government trying to radically overhaul the system set in place by your predecessor, there isn’t much harm in having the odd creative thinker in your team. But Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s strategy director, has come in for more than a bit of gentle joshing from the papers this morning, after it emerged that members of Whitehall are being driven round the bend by his ideas. Apparently, Hilton’s ideas to cut red tape and boost the economy include scrapping maternity leave rights and suspending all consumer rights legislation for nine months, ‘just to see what happens’. Radical, certainly. But could he have a point?

According to the FT, Hilton, who regularly strolls around No 10 bare-foot, is in the habit of coming up with hare-brained schemes ‘just to spark creative debate’. One of his enlightenments, for example, involved suggesting that Cameron ignore European laws on temporary workers. According to a source in Whitehall, the PM’s personal secretary, Jeremy Heywood, gently responded that Cameron ‘could be put in prison’ if he did that. Another source added that ‘three quarters’ of Hilton’s ideas never see the light of day. It’s clear died-in-the-wool Government bureaucrats loathe Hilton and all he stands for. Some will find that endears him to them further.

Clearly, some of his quirkier suggestions shouldn’t leave the drawing board (while the Tories were still in opposition, he apparently suggested investing in cloud-seeding technology to create more sunshine – and therefore, as the FT points out, more blue sky thinking). But Hilton also argued that scrapping maternity rights would help women climb the career ladder, his rationale being that they’re the ‘single biggest obstacle’ to women finding work. Much as it pains us to admit it, he might have a point on that one: from the perspective of a cash-strapped microbusiness, for example, the idea of taking on a recently-married woman could be perceived as risky.

Of course, there are less controversial ways to cut red tape – as business secretary Vince Cable demonstrated this morning. The results are in from the first round of the Government’s much-mocked Red Tape Challenge – and the measures to come out of it actually seem rather sensible. Cable says he wants to scrap 160 of the 257 regulations aimed at retailers. Obviously, they’ll need to go to public consultation first – but if the suggestions are approved, shops that want to stock chocolate liqueurs will no longer require an alcohol license, while TV retailers won’t have to notify TV Licensing of the buyer’s name and address every time they sell a telly. Ok, so it’s not quite as radical as Hilton’s brand of red tape inferno. But it’s an encouraging start…

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