Employee ownership organisation rejects "employee-owner" plans

"There is no need to dilute the rights of workers in order to grow employee ownership."

The Employee Ownership Organisation, which represents employee-owned businesses "contributing some £30bn to the UK economy each year", has written an open letter to Jo Swinson, the incoming Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, about the government's plans to introduce a new "employee-owner" status for workers in some businesses. 

Earlier this month, I referred to the plans as "Beecroft through the back-door", and in the intervening time, the actual proposals haven't got any better, while the execution of them has been even worse than expected. The first reading of the bill to introduce the new status happened on the very same day that a consultation into its implementation was launched. Today is the second reading of that bill, while the consultation doesn't even close until 8 November.

No wonder, then, that the EOO is concerned that the measures may tarnish the entire concept of employee ownership. The EOO's Chief Executive, Iain Hasdell, writes in his letter to Swinson that members of his organisation have three concerns:

Firstly, proposed legislation has appeared in a Bill before the Government consultation on the possibility of deploying this model of employee ownership has finished. Indeed it has only just started. Secondly, our Members are very aware that there is no need to dilute the rights of workers in order to grow employee ownership and no data to suggest that doing so would significantly boost the number of employee owners. Indeed all of the evidence is that employee ownership in the UK is growing and the businesses concerned thriving, because they enhance not dilute the working conditions and entitlements of employee owners. Thirdly, the appearance of this measure in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill appears to our Members to be completely disconnected to the recommendations in the Nuttall Review. That Review, as you know, contained a series of recommendations on how to grow employee ownership and none of those recommendations suggested the dilution of worker rights.

If it wasn't clear enough that these measures are a proposal aimed at reducing rather than increasing employees' rights in the workplace, the fact that the  very organisations they are named after are rejecting them ought to be a strong indicator.

Waitrose and John Lewis, Britain's best known employee-owned organisations. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.