By Tim Montgomerie
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Adrian Beecroft wrote a report for the Government that aims to create a climate in which businesses are more willing to hire extra workers. His argument is a simple one. Employers will be less keen to hire if it is expensive and time-consuming to fire them if, in due course, they under-perform in some way. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph Mr Beecroft explains the experiences that led him to the conclusions he presented to David Cameron:
"We had an HR man who was very good at the technical stuff, but hopeless with people so we dismissed him, having thought we’d gone through the process,” Mr Beecroft explains. The company then placed an advert for a replacement who was “good with people”. “And he sued us for discrimination on the grounds that everybody knows that people who are good with people means we want a woman. We went to the lawyers and said this is ridiculous and they said we’d have to pay and so we paid him.” The £150,000 payoff that Mr Beecroft’s firm had to make to the under-performing employee was, he says, a typical experience for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Many people simply do not bother to hire because of the problems it can cause, he claims.
Mr Beecroft offers another example:
“I have a very good friend who runs an internet business that’s got an office in London and an office in Boston, and he will never hire anybody in London if he can conceivably avoid it,” Mr Beecroft explains. “He says, 'Well the people in Boston are a bit more expensive but they work much harder and if I want to get rid of them I can. And my business is always evolving and changing and I need that flexibility, so Boston’s where I hire people.’”
Since submitting his report Adrian Beecroft has been subject to a great deal of vilification in the press. He has been painted as an anti-worker capitalist and, boo hiss, a "Tory donor". Vince Cable has dismissed his recommendations as "bonkers". Mr Beecroft hits back today. He expresses his disappointment that critics don't focus their fire on his ideas but on him personally. He then gets a bit personal towards Mr Cable. "I think he is a socialist," Beecroft complains, "who found a home in the Lib Dems, so he's one of the Left. I think people find it very odd that he's in charge of business and yet appears to do very little to support business."
Mr Beecroft thinks that David Cameron appears to have "given up" on the unfair dismissal component of his recommendations. The Mail is unimpressed and launches another of its now routine attacks on the Prime Minister. "Wouldn't it be nice if the Conservative Party were led by a genuine Tory?," begins its leading article (bottom of this page). It continues:
"When push comes to shove, [Cameron's] achingly liberal instincts always seem to triumph… His failure to embrace this excellent – and unmistakeably Tory – report leaves him open to the charge of failing to put the vital interests of Britain's wealth-creating private companies above the anti-business agenda and liberal rights obsession of his Coalition partners."
Yet again it looks like we are going to get too little, too late from this Coalition on improving Britain's competitiveness. Too little because all indications are that Beecroft is going to be very watered down. Too late because we really needed these reforms in the Coalition's first year and not its third.
Is there any remedy? Could the Coalition partners strike a new set of grand bargains? Could the blue half of the Coalition get the Beecroft plan if the yellow half get the kind of infrastructure investment that Nick Clegg is talking about in today's FT? Could we get massive tax simplification if the Lib Dems get the health brief? If Cameron and Clegg are willing to go back to the ambition of the Downing Street rose garden we might get close to the kind of Plan E for Economic Emergency that I set out on Monday.