Missed opportunity

Wilf StevensonWilf Stevenson on why the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will not deliver a connected plan for growth 

When the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill was first introduced, Business Secretary Vince Cable said "The measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will help make Britain one of the most enterprise-friendly countries in the world". This is the same Secretary of State who wrote to the Prime Minister in February of this year complaining about the government’s failure to develop a connected plan for growth and a "compelling vision of where the country is heading"

This missed opportunity of a Bill is not the answer to Mr Cable’s concerns. It is a hotchpotch of measures ranging from banking to employment law, competition policy to copyright, equalities to health and safety that provides no discernible overall vision, no confident message. Much of the employment section is inspired by the Beecroft Report, which the author admitted was not based on extensive research or evidence. Many of the most controversial issues were introduced after the Commons’ Committee stage, and were therefore not subject to proper scrutiny by MPs. And many of the later sections seem to be minor issues that were omitted from earlier legislation or dropped for lack of time.

Business leaders are already unimpressed with the government’s business policy, and this Bill isn’t going to change their views. It contains inadequate measures to boost business confidence, nothing to enhance the UK’s international competitiveness, and no measures to increase competition in consumer markets or to protect consumers from powerful vested interests. The Bill also fails to empower shareholders to bring to an end the culture of excessive rewards for corporate failure, while at the same time undermining Equalities policies and diluting the rights of people at work.

It is hard not to be struck by the difference in approach suggested recently by Lord Heseltine, who has called on Ministers to produce a radical growth strategy if Britain is to win the “relentless economic war”. So, where are the measures in the Bill aimed at improving business confidence, investment and competiveness? 

Labour will attempt to amend the Bill to better support business by ensuring that the green investment bank can be a strong and transparent catalyst for green growth. We will also look to improve the competition framework and place consumers at its heart; empower shareholders in relation to directors’ remuneration; and preserve employment rights and obligations. 

More than 2.5 million people in our country are out of work, long -term unemployment has risen and the number of young people out of work and claiming benefits for over a year continues to rise. That situation will not be resolved by taking away people’s fundamental rights. It will be done so by getting demand back into the economy – what should have been the sole focus of this Bill – and in doing so help businesses create enterprise, generate wealth and grow. Instead, we find ourselves back where we started, in a big black hole.

Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is a Shadow Business, Innovation & Skills Minister in the Lords

Published 13th November 2012

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