I’VE said time and time again that the single biggest issue facing our town is unemployment.
The fate of people looking for work has a grave impact on the economy of the town. But it is not merely confined to financial matters – we have seen in the 1980s that large numbers of jobless people have a social impact which is difficult to shake off quickly.
The scar of unemployment is deep and leaves a lasting mark.
I believe that the Government should have as its top priority the growth of the economy and helping to get more people into meaningful work.
By doing so, I think that the Chancellor’s determination to play down the public debt and eliminate the deficit – the difference between what the Government spends and what it receives in tax receipts – is actually easier to achieve.
If you have more people in work in a growing economy, more people are paying income tax, companies are paying more in corporation tax and people are buying goods and services meaning that more VAT is paid.
The Government is also having to pay out less in terms of benefits, as fewer people would be unemployed, helping to cut the deficit.
The Government believes that a key way in which to stimulate growth in the economy would be to make it easier to sack people already in work. The Government is changing the law so that rights for employees on matters like unfair dismissal claims are watered down.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill returns to the House of Commons next week.
This is something I have been working closely on, given my role as a shadow business minister.
It’s a bit of a rag tag of a bill, to be honest, as if the Government has desperately trawled round Whitehall asking for proposals to be dusted off the shelves as a means of padding out this bill.
The bill brings forward the Green Investment Bank, which I agree with, although I don’t think it goes far enough and the proposals do not help local firms, something I have flagged up in the committee stage of the bill.
It also brings forward some welcome points about directors’ pay, although again it doesn’t go far enough in matters such as putting employee representation on the committee that decides on pay for senior executives.
However, a big concern with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is the way in which it undermines workers’ rights.
What it could mean for working people in Hartlepool could be the risk of being fired because the boss doesn’t like the look of you, rather than for anything like poor performance or unsatisfactory conduct and no real right of reply or appropriate compensation if the appeal tribunal finds in favour of the worker unfairly dismissed.
The bill takes on board many of the controversial proposals put forward by the advisor to No 10, Adrian Beecroft.
When Mr Beecroft came to the Bill Committee, he admitted there was no evidence to support his proposals.
When I speak with businesses, both in Hartlepool and nationally, they don’t say that the main reason why this country is in recession is because they need to be able to sack people, but because of a lack of demand and severe – and increasing – public sector cuts choking off significant economic activity.
We in this country have the third least regulated labour market in the developed world, so having the flexibility to dismiss someone who is not performing at work already exists in a fair and balanced way.
I fear that these proposals, that we in parliament will be discussing and voting on next week, will make matters worse.
Employees will be fearful for their job security, meaning that they spend less money, which in turn sees retailers and other businesses go to the wall.
Penalising employees and their rights at work do nothing to boost this country’s economic growth.