Christina Patterson: Fearful people don't spend, and that's a burden as big as red tape

Private sector workers don't understand why it's hard to sack someone in the public sector

Share

He sings karaoke. He plays Fruit Ninja. He bashes balls on a tennis court, and watches DVDs. He watches Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives, and 24, and Lost. "If there were an Olympic gold medal for chillaxing," said one of his aides recently, our Prime Minister "would win it".

It isn't clear, from a report he published on Monday, whether Fruit Ninja and karaoke are things that improve productivity in the workplace. Adrian Beecroft, who wrote it, doesn't use words like "karaoke". He uses words like "efficient", and "competitive", and "regulation", and "impedes". He uses words like "burden" to say that something is bad, and "flexible" to say it's good. He doesn't use words like "chillax".

The report was commissioned by Steve Hilton, who until he decided to go on a sabbatical in California was a policy adviser to David Cameron. Steve Hilton seems to think that an awful lot of things are a "burden". He thinks, for example, that maternity leave is something that should probably be abolished, and so should consumer rights, and so should quite a lot of the civil service. He thinks clouds should be abolished, or burst with clever technology, and also, maybe, shoes. And he thinks that the best way to cut a deficit, and make an economy grow, is to cut "red tape".

Sometimes, it's quite hard to know what's "red tape" and what isn't. But it seems, from the way people talk about it, that "red tape" is what you call a law you didn't make. It certainly isn't what you call the Finance Bill, for example, which the Government passed in March, and which was the longest finance Bill ever, or the Health and Social Care Bill, which the Government also passed in March, and which runs to more than 470 pages. "Red tape" is a bit like a quango, which is something you say you'll put on a bonfire if someone else started it, but which you'll keep quiet about if the person who started it was you.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the report Hilton commissioned, from a man who made an awful lot of money in something called "venture capital", doesn't seem very keen on "red tape". The report thinks that "equal pay audits", for example, are "time consuming and expensive", and that employers are "frustrated" by the "requirement to advertise jobs".

The original report, which was leaked to a newspaper in October, said that it would be a good idea to postpone plans to introduce "flexible working" for parents, and to drop plans to introduce "flexible working" for workers who might not be parents, and to ditch laws that stopped children from being employed. The final report, which was a little bit different, didn't talk about these things, which may or may not be because "parents" tends to mean mothers, and because David Cameron was worried about getting votes from women. But the final report did make it very, very clear that it wasn't employers who should be "flexible", but employees. "Many regulations," says the report, "are designed to make employment more attractive to potential employees. That, it says, though it doesn't really need to, "was addressing yesterday's problem". That, it makes clear, is for the Fruit Ninja, or the Angry Birds. Today's problem, it makes clear, is workers who aren't quite grateful enough for their jobs, and who make a fuss about their rights.

Today's problem, according to the report, is that when employers want to sack employees, they can't just tell them to go. They have to go through procedures, and maybe even an expensive meeting called a "tribunal", to see if the sacking can count as "constructive dismissal". This, says the report, is very boring for the employers, and a big reason they might not take a worker on. And so, it suggests, it would be a good idea to have a new kind of sacking called "compensated no fault dismissal", where you could just give the employee some money, and make him go. It would, says the report, be "sad" for the people who lost their jobs just because their employer "did not like them", but this would be "a price worth paying" for "all the benefits that would result".

But when the news of this came out, quite a few people thought the price was a little bit high. Labour's shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna, certainly didn't think it was a price worth paying. Even the real Business Secretary, Vince Cable, didn't. Britain, he said on Monday, "has already got a very flexible, co-operative labour force". We didn't, he said, "need to scare the wits out of workers with threats to dismiss them".

Perhaps Cable had read the new report by the mental health charity, Mind, which says that the recession has "had a devastating effect on the wellbeing of British workers". Perhaps he read that seven per cent were taking antidepressants due to stresses at work, and 10 per cent had gone to see their GP. Perhaps he'd heard that 28 per cent were having to work longer hours, and that 33 per cent were now having to compete with colleagues. Perhaps he'd also seen the international league tables which show that many of the countries with the highest levels of employment regulation also have the best economic performance. And he will, unless he's as chillaxed as his boss, have seen the survey his department carried out last year which showed that only 7 per cent of businesses thought that regulation was a barrier to growth.

But Cable would certainly be aware, as everyone in this country must be aware, that the vast majority of the workers who are already "scared out of their wits" about losing their jobs are in the private sector. Some people in the public sector are worried, too, because of what used to be called "cuts" and are now called "savings", but an awful lot of people in the public sector seem to be very worried about quite small changes to their working practices, or to their generous pensions. The police, for example, are worried that they might have to take an annual fitness test. They seem to think that it's very unfair that people who are meant to be chasing criminals should have to be able to run.

What many people in the private sector are feeling isn't a bit of anxiety about a quite easy annual test, or about the size of their pension, which they very often haven't got. What people in the private sector are feeling is raw fear. They don't understand why it seems to be very hard to sack someone in the public sector, but very easy in the private sector, and they sure as hell don't need it to get easier still.

They also want to pass on a message. They want to remind the people who are trying to cut "red tape" that people who are terrified don't spend money. Which isn't great for the economy. They're also miserable, which isn't great for anything else.

twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding business based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - Scotland

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales - Business Broker - North East Region

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As an award winning and leading...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The Top Ten: Words In Christmas Carols That Ought To Be Revived

John Rentoul
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas