Curtailing access to Employment Tribunals – a liberal approach to fostering economic growth?

There is little disagreement that the economic growth figures for 2010 Q4 were very poor. When set alongside the performance of other developed economies they look even more anaemic. The Government is promising that the 2011 budget will be a budget for growth. But the Government is already bringing forward more focused initiatives with the justification that they are geared towards fostering private sector growth. Most recently Vince Cable has announced proposals for changes to employees’ access to Employment Tribunals.

The core proposal is that a worker will need to have been employed for two years, rather than the one year at present, before they are eligible to take a case of unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal. Defending a case that goes to Tribunal is expensive for employers, on average it is estimated to cost around £4,000. The argument is that the expense and bureaucratic nature of the process can act as a deterrent to taking on additional workers, particularly for small businesses. Lifting this burden will, the Government hopes, encourage employers to be more bullish in expanding their workforce.

The Government is also concerned that there has been a dramatic increase in cases taken to Employment Tribunal. The total number of claims rose between 2008-09 and 2009-10 by 56 per cent to 236,000. The Government suggests that its new approach will also be more effective in dealing with weak and vexatious claims. There is, of course, an implication there that the recent growth in claims is stuffed full of frivolous claims.

But is that a sensible inference for us to draw? Read more of this post


Giving some shape to the running year

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 29/01/11]

It used to be so simple. For several years my running year had a clear shape. It was a tale of two cities. The Bath Half at Easter; the Bristol Half in September. Twin Peaks. Finish one Half and have a few weeks relatively easy running to recover. Then restart the process of building up for the next Half. A few shorter races sprinkled around helped to leaven the mix.

Then it all lost its shape, partly as a result of injury and partly because, if I’m honest, I decided I’d run Bath as many times as I wanted to.

Having trundled around Bristol last September, for the first time in three years, I took a while to recover. I’ve spent the last couple of months running quite a few miles and kept the long run at about 8 miles. But I’ve realised that it’s all gone a bit shapeless. Read more of this post

Housing demand – a role for status concerns?

Housing is a complex commodity. Economists think about the demand for housing as having both a consumption and an investment component. Trying to integrate the two components is a challenge. But is this approach sufficient? Economists differ in their views on the success of conventional approaches to understanding housing markets, particularly in the light of the recent experience of the house price crash. There is enough debate to suggest that exploring new angles could be valuable. More specifically, does the analysis of housing demand need to embrace social status concerns?

Interest in status concerns as a driver of demand is by no means new or novel. It is most likely self-evidently important for those interested in the sociology or anthropology of consumption. Even in the economics community it is an issue that has recurrently, albeit intermittently, attracted attention. Read more of this post

Magical markets and medical muppets

You don’t come across that slightly touching, naive market fundamentalism quite as often now as you did a few years ago. The financial crisis and its aftermath has increased the circumspection of some market advocates, at least for the moment. One place you do sometimes come across the dogmatic view of markets is among those who live in former state socialist and communist countries. The other would appear to be the Coalition government.

I quite regularly have the opportunity to discuss the relative merits of the state, the market and points in between with citizens from transition and developing economies coping with the legacy of state socialism. While some have a sophisticated understanding of the issues, others could perhaps engage with the complexities a bit more deeply. There is a strand of very simplistic thinking which sees the public sector as fundamentally corrupt and markets as a solution to most of society’s ills. The former view may be born of bitter personal experience, but it is treated as an inherent characteristic. Markets, on the other hand, have almost magical properties.  They are the repository of dynamism, entrepreurialism, efficiency. Markets are reified and deified. The idea of private sector inefficiency, monopoly or villainy doesn’t compute. Even when the post-transition society they live in might reasonably be characterised as a kleptocracy.

So what about the Coalition? Read more of this post

What a carve up! redux

When I read Jonathan Coe’s What a carve up! back in the 1990s it was as a satire on the deep unpleasantness of the Thatcher government. The rapaciousness of some of the characters was slightly cartoonish but none the less disturbing. Yet, the more I think about it the more it appears a work with a strong prophetic edge.

The book’s take on the Thatcher years and the extent to which the book’s protagonists were enamoured of private profit may have felt a bit over the top at the time – it was hard to imagine quite such odious people. Perhaps that was my youthful naivety back then.

But now we’re subjected to the regime of Thatcher’s children – turbo-Thatcherism. The direction of the current proposals for health reform suggest we’re back in Coe country again. And this time there’s a danger that Coe’s book could be taken as a documentary account of some of the thinking currently abroad. The commercial sector is circling around the NHS, sniffing major profit opportunities, and the government are keen to facilitate the process of hiving off functions to it.  Despite all the public protestations to the contrary. It’s all a bit depressing.

Is a two-tier service a good thing?

I must have been looking the other way. An article in today’s Observer (which appears online under a different title here) mentions that back in December the Government withdrew the so-called Two-tier code for public service employment (as notified here).  The code is designed to stop the emergence of a two-tier workforce. It regulates the benefits that employers providing outsourced public services should offer their employees. Basically it says that they should offer employees terms and conditions, including pension provision, similar to those available to employees in the public sector. It has been replaced by a more flexible voluntary guide called Principles of Good Employment Practice. The logic is that the Government wants to have a more diverse landscape of provision and the two-tier code is considered a barrier to small or mutual or charitable providers entering the market.

Is this a good or a bad thing? Read more of this post

Mr Ed’s fishing expedition

Ed Miliband’s speech to the Fabian Society conference today was intriguing. That isn’t to say that I agreed with it all. But it was a fascinating step in the political game and a piece of political rhetoric worth examining. Mr Ed has come in for a bit of criticism for the low-key start to his tenure as Labour leader. This was significant speech to a set-piece event. People were eager to hear what he had to say. And what he had to say was interesting in at least two respects. First, in its attempt to dissociate itself from the legacy of New Labour and chart a way forward. Second, it was a transparent attempt to articulate a route for Labour that will also appeal to left-leaning Liberal Democrats. It was a supreme exercise in triangulation. It was, quite clearly, a fishing expedition.

The strategy had a number of components. Read more of this post

Should we be concerned about the Government’s attempted quangocide?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 13/01/11]

Quangos – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations – occupy a strange place in the British political landscape. They tend to proliferate because governments can’t resist seeing new commissions for this or advisory panels for that as essential, while rarely deciding that existing bodies have outlived their usefulness. Yet, the term “quango” inhabits the same discursive space as “bureaucracy”. There is an engrained association with waste, inefficiency, red tape and pointless interfering. In many people’s minds, and frequently in political rhetoric, “quango = bad” by definition. (For a discussion of a similar equation regarding bureaucracy, see here on my blog.) So, the story goes, quangos need to be treated with suspicion and reined in whenever possible. Read more of this post

Tribalism and coalition in a media-saturated political environment

We still have a lot to learn about Coalitionland. It is, certainly for Westminster politicos, a foreign country. As Mark Thompson pointed out at MarkReckons last Thursday, Labour seem unable to grasp the concept of compromise, which lies at the heart of successful coalition government. The idea that someone in the Lib Dems or Conservatives could simultaneously support both their own party policy and coalition policy, even though the two differ, does not (yet?) appear to compute for Labour. Of course, while Labour may be making a particularly bad job of adjusting to the new political landscape, they are not entirely alone. A while ago at Liberal Democrat Voice, George Kendall posted in response to tribalism from Lib Dems. The thrust of his argument was that it is not sensible politics for Liberal Democrats to engage in excessively tribal responses to Labour attacks on the formation of the coalition and the agenda it is seeking to pursue. After all, it may be that next time around the voters’ wishes signal that the most viable coalition would be with Labour. It would be rather unfortunate if all bridges had been burned. Remaining civil would seem more prudent. Read more of this post

Right all along? (Unfortunately)

Today’s Independent carries an op-ed piece by Steve Richards which ostensibly focuses on the concerns of the Tory right about the prospect of an electoral pact with the Lib Dems. Richards argues that such concerns are unfounded. The basis for the argument appears to be that an electoral pact would undermine the Lib Dem commitment to pluralism.

In the process he summarizes why the Tory right should be happy with how things are shaping up. In doing so he encapsulates all that social liberals find so appalling about the Coalition: Read more of this post