I rarely venture into politics for this column, but 2010 will be the year of a general election in the UK and, as this is the first issue of the year, I feel I should lay out what I believe we should look for in policies towards business, employment and skills from any party aspiring to govern.
First, I want to see a commitment to restoring common sense in the handling of the risks and liabilities of employment. I ask for this as another deluge of health and safety guidance has landed on my desk reflecting a sense of near hysteria in organisations to protect themselves against every risk they can possibly think of and in so doing reduce the opportunities, challenges and ultimately the enjoyment of being at work. In addition there is the fear of being taken to a tribunal that drives timid management and behaviour and creates working climates that drives performance standards down not up.
We now live in a nanny state where no one it seems has to take personal accountability for their own actions, no one can accept there will be risks that have to be taken and care needs to be exercised in the carrying out of everyday tasks. No one, it seems, can be challenged, confronted and ultimately removed for being a poor performer.
Before your fingers start to blog, twitter or email, let me start with an unqualified statement of principle: working safely is of course the right thing to do, as is being conscious about the health and wellbeing of your staff, your customers and of those who live and work around you. My problem is the failure of government to achieve a balance in these areas. I will vote for a party committed to removing legislation that automatically assumes employer guilt, reduces regulation and restores the balance of responsibilities between employers and those they employ. In so doing I am voting for a government whose actions will do more to restore public-service performance, private-sector profitability and, ultimately, job security.
Second, I want to see a commitment to address the lack of real power of individual investors in determining the overall percentage of revenues that are available for remuneration, particularly the remuneration of executive level managers. Bonuses are not the real problem; they are merely a symptom of an environment where the proportion of revenues set aside for executive remuneration is too much, yet where the real owners cannot influence boards to implement real change.
I will vote for a party that sets out to restore the rights of ownership to the real shareowners - pension fund members, investment fund members, shareholders who delegate their voting rights to fund manager - through demanding greater democratic accountability of what is done in their name, especially in the area of remuneration. In so doing I am voting for a potential government whose actions will do more to rebuild the reputation of - and trust in - business.
Finally I want to see a commitment to a fundamental reform of our education system. The Government's praiseworthy desire to ensure access to the best education for the best pupils regardless of background has resulted in a public system with widely differing standards. Education needs to be taken out of the control of politicians and educationalists. The targets and tables need to go and standards have to be set at an aspirational level for every child regardless of background. In higher education we need fewer research-intensive universities and more institutions offering shorter skill-based qualifications that cost the student and the state less to deliver.
While it's unlikely any of the three serious contenders will offer me all that I want, I know that I want to support the party that is thinking the most about the future of skills, employment and economic sustainability and not just shortterm political advantage.
- Chris Bones is dean of Henley Business School; firstname.lastname@example.org