Scrap unfair dismissal, says Downing Street report

Leaked report argues that move will boost employment -- a disingenuous claim given non-existent econ

Workers should lose the right to claim unfair dismissal if they are sacked without explanation, according to a leaked government report. The argument is that this would allow businesses to replace unproductive workers with more capable candidates, thus boosting economic growth.

The controversial proposals are made in a report from venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, commissioned by David Cameron. It claims that current laws allow workers to "coast along", leaving employers fearful of expansion because new employees are impossible to sack.

Dated 12 October 2011, the report, leaked to the Daily Telegraph, says that the first major issue for British enterprise is "the terrible impact of the current unfair dismissal rules on the efficiency and hence competitiveness of our businesses, and on the effectiveness and cost of our public services." It continues:

The rules both make it difficult to prove that someone deserves to be dismissed, and demand a process for doing so which is so lengthy and complex that it is hard to implement. This makes it too easy for employees to claim they have been unfairly treated and to gain significant compensation.

It is hardly surprising that the report is said to have the support of both Downing Street and the Chancellor, as it is merely a step further in the direction they have already taken. At the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, George Osborne announced measures to make it easier for bosses to sack workers. These included increasing the qualifying period for unfair dismissals from one year of employment to two, and requiring those who take their employer to industrial tribunals to pay an initial deposit of £250, and a further £1,000 is a hearing is granted.

His justification was the same as Beecroft's: that this will encourage companies to take workers on. But it is more than a little perverse to argue that making it easier to sack people will reduce unemployment.

Even Beecroft accepts that there are risks to his strategy. Writing that it would be "politically unacceptable" to simply scrap unfair dismissal, he proposes that employers be allowed to sack unproductive staff with notice and a basic redundancy package. However, he says that a "downside" to this is that employers could fire staff because they "did not like them". He adds:

While this is sad I believe it is a price worth paying for all the benefits that would result from the change.

It is more than "sad" for workers to face a higher risk of losing their jobs in this unstable economic climate. If the current system is open to abuse by employees, as claimed, this would merely tip the balance way towards the employer. There are other ways of reforming the system without eroding workers' rights to such an alarming degree (some are outlined in this Liberal Conspiracy blog).

Such a change might make things easier for business, but would be an alarming assault on employee rights. Moreover, it is disingenuous to claim that it would have a significant impact on growth. This analysis places too much weight upon the role of workers' rights in rising unemployment (which is spurious, to say the least), and not enough on non-existent economic growth and government cuts.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad