George Osborne pledged to help small businesses by making it harder for employees to sue them, as he promised Britain would “ride out the storm” of economic chaos gripping the world.
But the measure was immediately condemned by trade unions, who accused him of making it harder for staff who suffered discrimination or bullying to take on bad bosses.
The Chancellor told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that Britain would get through the downturn “and together we will move into the calmer, brighter seas beyond.”
Confirming plans to freeze council tax for a second year, thanks to an £805 million Treasury grant to councils, he insisted there was no money for further tax cuts, such as Labour’s planned VAT cut or the abolition of the 50p top rate of income tax which some Tories have been demanding.
Mr Osborne also promised to get credit flowing to small firms who have been struggling to obtain bank loans through the creation of “credit easing”. This could involve the Treasury purchasing corporate bonds from smaller businesses.
The Chancellor insisted there was no way the Government would give in to demands to reduce or delay spending cuts by borrowing more money, warning: “We’d be hazarding our precious low interest rates on a change of course that would put those rates up in the full knowledge that any extra billion pounds of public spending would be wiped out by billions of pounds more in higher interest costs for families, businesses, and taxpayers.”
New measures to help industry would include charging employees who take firms to industrial tribunals - with the fee repaid if they win - and preventing anyone from claiming unfair dismissal from a firm unless they have been employed for two years, rather than just one year as at present.
But Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB union, said: “The Tories want to reduce the employment rights of ordinary workers not to be sacked from their livelihoods unfairly. They are the same old nasty Tories now shoulder to shoulder with the predatory elite.”
Mr Osborne also announced £150 million to improve mobile phone coverage across the country and plans to create construction jobs by releasing government-owned land to build 100,000 new homes.