William Hague hit a corporate nerve this weekend when he suggested Britain’s bosses should just stop complaining about the economy and work harder, drawing the inevitable comparison with Lord Tebbit’s now legendary “get on your bike” remark from the 1980s.
It was maybe an unfortunate headline selectively taken from a possible workaday interview. However, there seemed to be a tacit acknowledgment in the following day’s business advisory group meeting with David Cameron that the remarks may have been both poorly timed and possibly ill advised – even though this wasn’t stated in so many words.
When the British Chambers of Commerce suggest UKPLC is already “busting a gut” and that Government “could be doing more” in support and John Cridland, DG of the CBI, more tactfully suggesting that the Government’s pro-enterprise strategy needs “speeding up”, now may be the time to listen a little harder.
Against a backdrop of eye-watering executive pay revelations and subsequent shareholder revolt, coupled with a coalition government that has recently seemed to have taken its eye of the ball, Hague’s comments do seem a little rich.
The IoD majority membership is SMEs, many of whom are battling on against a not exactly encouraging backdrop of complicated employment law, lack of bank lending and crippling cash flow issues. Many would quite openly say they can’t work any harder. And putting in the hours doesn’t necessarily mean you are being more productive. Do we really want a workforce that’s so worn out and so supported by aforesaid employment law that we end up with another ‘sick note Britain’?
Surely it’s about working smarter, not harder, which is where the Government can help by, for instance, relaxing or altering some aspects of employment legislation, freeing up small business to get on with the job in hand of making things, selling services, employing people and ultimately making money. Less of the macro-economics and more of some immediate common sense measures that help us here and now.
IoD Chief Economist Graham Leach recently set out his seven stage plan for the UK economy. Among them was the following: “Stop messing around with employment law, regulatory and planning reforms and do the job properly. Forget tweaking and instigate a seismic shift. A seismic shift in the burden of employment law and regulation could potentially create up to one million jobs.
“The financial crisis wasn’t caused by too much capitalism but by too little. Banks too big to fail and who know it are not the waves of creative destruction driving competitive markets forward through the entry and exit of firms.”
‘Carrot and stick ‘are successful in equal measures – and it’s knowing when to pick your moment in an environment where most businesses are already feeling the pain of several sharp blows. We all know about effort right now – I don’t think William Hague, or anyone else for that matter, needs to spell it out to us.