The Midlands business community last night gave a general thumbs down to the Queen’s Speech amid fears it would lead to further red tape.
In a speech aimed squarely at softening the pain of the UK’s current economic predicament, the Queen outlined a heavily slimmed down programme of legislation that she said would “ensure the stability of the British economy through the global economic downturn.”
Those bills that directly affected the business community included an Equality Bill outlawing discrimination of old people as well as enshrining in law from next year the rights of all parents with children under 16 to demand flexible working hours. However, there was some positive news for business with a new Banking Bill that would strengthen regulatory powers and theoretically prevent a similar crisis to that we see today happening again.
Nevertheless the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), while welcoming plans to hold the banks to account by strengthening the banking code, said it was concerned by the problems business may face from the other legislation. Bruce Undy, Warwickshire & Coventry chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The Queen’s Speech is a mixed bag for small businesses this year. Reforms to the financial sector are very welcome, following a very difficult year for small businesses which have seen costs on overdrafts rise and loans being defaulted.
“But measures to extend flexible working for parents will be an extra burden for small businesses at an already difficult time. The FSB is also concerned that small firms will struggle to pay extra business rate charges in what will be a very difficult year.”
Business willl have face up to even more regulatory pressures as a result of the Queen’s Speech, according to Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Katie Teasdale, senior policy adviser, said: “Regulation cost businesses in the UK £5.4billion last year. Now is not the time to increase the already weighty regulatory burdens affecting UK plc.
“The worsening economic outlook, falling business confidence and sales, places very many firms in acutely challenging circumstances.
“Government and all partners need to make sure we are giving our businesses all the support we can and as such, we are very concerned that government has elected to press ahead with extending the right to request flexible working to all parents of 16s and under from next April.
“This will create more obligations and pressures on employers at just the wrong time.”
Business leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire thought the speech delivered little comfort. Stephen Docherty, policy officer at the Chamber, said: “The Banking Bill appears to be the right course of action and will hopefully see banks returning to ‘normal’ – especially when it comes to lending to businesses.
However, we feel other areas of the speech may prevent businesses taking on new staff because of new employment legislation.”
Peter O’Grady, West Midlands spokesperson for EEF, said: “In the current climate business will be dismayed that a number of the proposals threaten to add to business costs and burdens when companies can least afford them.”
Some aspects of the Queen’s Speech, which the government hopes will kick-start the economy, could end up costing business even more, according to Black Country Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president Peter Mathews said: “Legislating to provide flexible working is a contradiction in terms.
“Burdensome regulation costs employers time and money and makes it less likely that they will be able to accommodate flexible working for staff.
Jane Byford, partner and head of employment at Martineau and acting chair of the UK Council for Access and Equality (UKCAE), welcomed the Equality Bill but warned: “The Bill introduces an element of positive discrimination, which may cause confusion and create further problems for employers.
“It is clarity and simplicity that the UKCAE and Martineau embrace.
“I’m concerned that the proposal allowing ‘positive action’ – when selecting between two equally qualified candidates where there is under-representation of a disadvantaged group in a workforce – is effectively ‘positive discrimination’ and I’ve been arguing this point during the consultation process.
“Another key measure is transparency. The Bill is aiming to introduce a ‘kite mark’ for organisations to demonstrate their equality credentials.
“I believe that this is both crucial and beneficial to businesses, but any such equality check tool needs to measure not only compliance with the law, but also good practice. This should not be a tick box exercise.”