Thursday, 18 December 2008

2008 the year of realisation - 2009 the year of taking responsibility

Going into 2008 many of us will probably claim to have had reservations about the amount of debt but in reality few will have had any idea of just what a threat it was to global financial wellbeing. Who’d have thought that the banking system would have required Government to bail them out or that one person could have made $50 billion disappear into thin air. As Jeff Randall observed in the Daily Telegraph “anyone can lose a few million but to lose $50 billion takes real talent”.

In truth I guess we all saw something that with a little thought we would have understood to be too good to be true but to be fair we were warning of problems ahead as early as February. In April we questioned the effectiveness of the Financial Services Authority and in May we warned that interest rates were too high. If we had done that in 2007 we could claim to have been really clever but, nonetheless, we still claim to have been ahead of those that left the decisions until the autumn.

Whoever is to blame the result is that the next few months are going to be tough but, as someone said, “when the going gets tough the tough get going”. One can simply despair or one can do something about it; and there is much to be done.

The financial crisis has not only had economic impact, it has also laid bare a number of other fault lines. The pursuit of numbers rather than relevance in relation to skills has cruelly exposed skills gaps as too often easy options have been taken. The unquestioning acceptance over a number of years that manufacturing is on the decline has “removed an important club from the bag”. Our complacent attitude to the prosperity we have built up over a number of years. I could go on.

Before I am accused of delivering a gospel of total despair I should like to say that the current position, although extremely uncomfortable, provides us with an opportunity to regroup and to rethink.

2009 must become the year when we all take responsibility. The year when we begin to question our political masters more carefully. The year when we all play our part in finding solutions.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Oh dear, yet more employment legislation! The Government that claims it wants to help business strikes again!

Let me begin by saying that in 2008 any business that is able to be and doesn’t have a flexible approach to its staff is missing a trick. Good employers, generally, have a more effective workforce and reduce costs by retaining them for longer. If being flexible helps an employee, and doesn’t have a deleterious impact on the business, surely it makes sense to be so. Good employers have long since recognised the benefits of being flexible and therefore there is no need to introduce legislation to make them be so. It leads to better performance and gives them edge over those who are not.

The problem with legislation is that it has a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses and takes away the ability to apply commonsense. It must also be said that it does not discriminate between good and bad employers. Good employers will follow it diligently but nevertheless occasionally end up facing the unfairness of Industrial Tribunals and, in any case, incur the additional costs of implementation. Frankly, bad employers will ignore it.

It seems to me that this government has got so wound up with political correctness and an apparent wish to interfere in all aspects of our day to day life it has failed to understand that reasonable people can rub along perfectly well without their constant intervention. Legislation may keep some people on the rails but at the end of the day most of us will be good (most of the time) and some people will be bad. We do not require the State to constantly tell us what is right and wrong and how to behave.

Since it came to power in 1997 this Government has stated that it wants to support business – at best it has been inconsistent. I am not sure that this legislation would be welcome at anytime but at a time when business people across the country are trying everything they know to sustain a future for their businesses the announcement of yet more legislation should be condemned. It really does appear that the only answer this government has to life’s challenges is yet more legislation.

To paraphrase Albert Einstein “Continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome is a sign of madness”.