Home Page Whose rules and regulations are we playing by now? 22/04/11

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

It’s hard to find anyone with a good word to say for ‘Elf An Safety’ nowadays, but it was not always so. There was a time when a report of an accident and the involvement of what was then the Health and Safety Executive was a cause for hope that some careless employer would be forced into taking much-needed action.


The problem, as so often, is that the pendulum has now swung the other way and we have children who can’t play at conkers and firemen who can’t go up ladders.


Haverhill’s MP Matthew Hancock was talking to town businesses yesterday and one of his themes was the way unnecessary regulation could be rolled back to let businesses get on with the business of employing people and making money.


Everyone will have some sort of sympathy with this, from the boss who is fed up with being strangled by bureaucracy to the people who found they couldn’t stage a street party for the royal wedding because it might constitute a danger.


But business, naturally, wants it all its own way. There were murmurings against the extra bank holiday given for the royal wedding. Mr Hancock himself stated he was against the creation of St George’s Day as a new bank holiday.


It is curious to try to envisage how that would have affected this weekend if it had been one already. The actual day is tomorrow, so an extra day would have had to be given in lieu, presumably yesterday (Thursday) or next Tuesday, which would have made it a five-day break. Businesses would have been steaming.


But I wonder how businesses coped when bank holidays were invented, or when Saturday was made a non-working day. They managed somehow and became very successful nevertheless.


Nowadays there doesn’t seem to be much difference between bank holidays, Sundays and working days except bus and train timetables.


Regular readers of my witterings will no doubt remember how I used to go on about Good Friday not being observed properly. It seems curious that the only fixed bank holiday in the year which is not a Monday continues with much of the populace completely ignorant of why it is a holiday at all.


That is all about rolling back regulations – the ones about when you can trade. But there are other regulations which businesses don’t like and which the Government is addressing – things like planning and employment tribunals have been targeted already.


I’m sure employees must be a real bugbear to businesses. They are always wanting the right to this or that. It was much the same towards the end of the slave trade, people were always going on about the right of a human being to be free.

Experience has taught me that although the benefits of treating employees very well may be hard to quantify, the disbenefits of treating them very badly are soon extremely obvious.


Not every company may be able to behave like John Lewis, or Titus Salt or even the old Victorian Gurteens, who were reasonably enlightened for their day. But once you step over a certain line of exploitation, there is a comeback which will eventually affect the business.


That is one reason for shipping in foreign labour, because they are less able to articulate grievances and therefore less likely to cause any noticeable trouble.


There were words exchanged on this subject at the recent Haverhill Town Council planning committee when the issue of the Hamlet Green shopping and business development was being discussed.


Some 250 jobs are promised with this proposal, but councillors were not so easily beguiled as they were once before by this carrot. Would they be jobs for people in Haverhill?


Pretty much everyone welcomed Culina with open arms for a similar reason, only to find, a few years down the line, that there are not many English, let alone Haverhill, employees there. A business is quite within its rights to employ who it wants to within the law.


Mr Hancock touched on the values which underpin what the Government is doing at the moment. One of these is that those who work hard should be properly rewarded. Although no one would argue with that, it does seem to imply a corollary that those who don’t shouldn’t.


Then there was the determination to support ‘those who play by the rules’. What rules was not clearly defined. Did the bankers play by the rules? Technically, maybe.


How about those people who worked hard, paid off any debt they had incurred and saved for their retirement? Who is supporting them?


The answer is nobody, because there are more voters in sizeable debt, so we have to look after them first.


I wonder what the spending power of the country’s savers would be if they could get any sort of return for their money.


But borrowing is still the order of the day. Business must borrow to invest and people in debt must go on borrowing to realise their aspirations in housing, cars and all sorts of new toys. These, apparently, are the new rules of wealth creation and any regulations which get in their way will be removed.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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