Tuesday 16 October 2012

Rights under attack

Chukka Umunna has written to Labour members asking them to lobby their MPs to vote against the plans  to strip away employment rights.  This is wha he says :

Dear Your rights at work are under attackFriend
Tomorrow the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats are launching their latest assault on the British worker and we urgently need your help to defeat a bill that could adversely affect the lives of millions of people.
Vince Cable and the Tory-led government will bring their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill back to the House of Commons to try and turn it into Law.
I need your help right now to make sure as many MPs as possible vote against the ERR bill tomorrow.
This ERR bill will:
  • Water down the rights of all employees in this country
  • The time an employee is required to be employed before they are able to claim for unfair dismissal has already been raised from one year to two, and now these proposals will reduce the amount of compensation unfairly dismissed workers can receive
  • Reduce protections for whistleblowers at work.
If the government can get this Bill passed they’ll also allow employers to make minimal offers to workers to leave, then gag those same workers from even mentioning this at employment tribunal.
Not content with action that will leave thousands in fear for their jobs – the government’s bill will also abolish the Human Rights Commission’s duty to promote a society free of discrimination. It is disgraceful that Ministers should pretend abolishing action to end discrimination should be part of anything called an ‘enterprise’ bill.
The Labour position is very clear – we will be voting against the Bill this week
We do not want to make it easier for bosses to sack people, we want to make it easier for firms to hire. Nothing less than real action to help the economy will do, and sweeping aside workers rights is only going to make things much, much worse.
We will not stand for it. 
Thank you,
Chuka Umunna MP
Member of Parliament for Streatham
Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation &Skills

Monday 15 October 2012

De-mutualising fairness at work?

Perhaps if I owned a Bentley and was asked to give it up I wouldn’t find it that hard to do as I have never been in a position to own or use a Bentley, I don’t really know what they are worth. Just as the Tory frontbench think it will be all right for people to give up their employment rights. They have never had real jobs, never needed such rights and have no appreciation of what they are worth.
But I can’t understand how people would give up their rights to unfair dismissal from their jobs and their family income? Or, to put it another way, how could people give up their rights to be treated fairly? Do such rights have a value? To some they have no value and to some they are just a cost.
But we in the Labour movement, and I as a member of the Labour Small Business Forum, know they had a cost – one of over a 100 years of campaigning of hardships and struggle. To us they have a priceless value as those who went before us sacrificed to make them possible. They understood the fallacy of relying on just the good character of their employer or manager, of relying on their simple ‘benevolence’ or on their ‘charity’, or on their ‘paternalism’ – was flawed. They sought the dignity of work and fair treatment. Unions could help enforce such fair treatment, but in their absence (and outside the public sector they are largely absent) the guarantor of fair treatment is employment rights enshrined in legislation. They help make companies good places to work. To us they are priceless, but to the Tories they are valueless and costly and don’t fit inside their Downton Abbey-esque view of the world and so they propose to dispose of them.
George Osborne’s idea whereby employees can trade away their employment rights for a few plastic shares is the sort of scheme that would be rejected out of hand by the FSA as a consumer con-trick. It seems that there is to be a tariff on maternity and paternity leave and childcare. What price equality in the workplace? Ask George. What is the value of family life and the right to take time off unpaid when your children are ill? Ask George. Can Dad’s take time off too? What is the value of speaking out against bullies in the workplace? Ask George. They plan to buy us all off.
For Osborne has ready a great scheme to de-mutualise the fair society. I know that none of them have had a job outside of politics. They don’t know what it is like to start a new job and find slipped in with your new contract a form asking you to waive the working-time directive. They don’t know what it is like to see their friends lose their jobs because their faces don’t fit on the day before they acquire employment rights. I do. They don’t know what it is like to see a friend return from maternity leave only to see that they have been demoted. I have seen all this in past jobs.
But I have seen also the ashen faces of managers when they realise that they can’t get away with it, that they are being judged by both moral standards and legal requirements. That they have both moral and legal responsibility to the people they employ. What keeps bad managers in check are employment rights – they are the silent guarantors of fair treatment in the workplace because bad managers are forced to work within those parameters. They mean that we don’t surrender our civil rights when we clock on, that we are going to be treated with dignity and respect at work.
I know that some abuse their rights but, ironically, most of the cases I know of occur in the public sector and not the private sector. When cases do go to tribunals and the employees win, how can that be a travesty of justice? How can the fact that someone can prove that they have been discriminated against, abused or bullied be wrong?
I am all for employee ownership of shares and all for helping small firms recruit new staff and to grow small business ownership but there needs to be a fair balance of rights and responsibilities between staff and employers. Stripping away employment rights isn’t the solution.
Ironically if you own shares in many companies you can’t sell them on the open market and often have to sell them back to the company when you leave. So the company AGMs will be a hoot – since unless the staff vote through what the management want they could get the sack and lose their shares. It is Conservative democracy in action. Only they could come up with such a plan, as only they are so out of touch with the real world.
By Philip Ross - originally published by Progress 

Friday 12 October 2012

PradRad meeting to take up small business issues

The next PradRad meeting on Wednesday 17th October has speakers taking up small business issues :

Proactive Small Business Promotion Agencies In Central and Local Government Small and medium sized businesses employ around half the UK work force. We need to end the Thatcher/Reagan consensus about unfettered free markets and instead have SME advocates in the heart of government charged with encouraging growth in this sector.
Cllr Steve Cowan, Leader of Opposition Hammersmith and Fulham Council

Tackling Late Payment to Help Small Firms Survive and GrowToo many organisations still manage their cashflow by stringing their smaller suppliers along, which makes it harder for small firms to grow and can drive them under. Suppliers have the right to sue for payment but understandably rarely use this, and the voluntary approach to encourage prompt payment has its limitations. Large firms, public bodies and charities – including privatised utilities, local authorities and subsidiaries of overseas companies – should be required by law to publish their independently audited payment practices in their annual reports, enabling the worst offenders to be publicly named and shamed.
Ben Coleman, Self Employed,  Member of Labour’s Small Business Taskforce. (Secretary of Hammersmith CLP).

See : 


Why we must teach girls to code

by vijay riyait.

In the current debate about the schools exam system, the discussion has been based on the type of examination system that kids leaving school at 16 should undertake. While this is an important issue it fails to focus on the type of knowledge we would like our children to develop and how that learning should be relevant for today’s society and for the economic success of our country.

In the film, Dead Poet’s Society, there is a great scene in which Robin Williams explains that medicine, law, business, engineering are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life but that poetry, beauty, romance and love are the things we stay alive for. So, I want to be clear before I set out my argument that STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) are not the only important ingredients for a successful country and our children need to have a broad based educational background for as long as possible before specialising.

Having said that, if we look at the statistics, women only make up 12 per cent of engineering graduates and just 2 per cent of girls take physics A Level. There has been an enduring and growing gender imbalance in STEM which severely limits the growth of this country and hugely distorts the available labour market. Computing has been falling in popularity overall as a subject and at degree level, 91 per cent of computing/engineering students are male. The last Labour government set up the UK Resource Centre for Women to advance gender equality and diversity from the classroom to the boardroom in science, engineering and technology. However, progress has been slow, painfully so. What we need, and the thing which government is bad at doing, is leading a cultural shift about the way we see the role of women and how women view the opportunities available for themselves. In India, you are far more likely to a see a female programmer than in the UK and this is in a large way due to the fact that computing is seen as a valuable part of the overall economic engine. It is a way for women to have careers and get paid well and be respected in Indian society.

The current government has taken steps to change the way ICT is taught in schools and a move away from just teaching computer packages and towards a curriculum which has had input from companies such as Microsoft, Google and organisations such as the British Computing Society. This is all goods news but we can do more and we can and must do more at grass-roots levels as the ICT changes won’t occur until 2014. There has been a growing movement to take computing for girls into the heart of communities and to inspire them to work on simple programming tasks. I would like Labour to support not only changes to the school curriculum but to support these initiatives at the local level (in our poorest areas) and to put them higher up the political agenda.  I would also contend that KS3 is not early enough to catch the imagination of many girls and to challenge stereotypes and this must be done by at least KS2. We need young role models to take the message that computing is for you as a girl and that you can still do all the things that other girls do and not be considered ‘strange’ and ‘weird’.

A major part of our future economic success in our evolving digital age in the 21st Century will depend upon whether we can involve our young women and not so young women (computing skills are blind to the age of the person) in taking up careers in software development. The best way to see what can be achieved with people willing to make a difference can be seen by the energy and passion of a daughter of a good friend of mine in Canada who is an award winning technology business woman. Her daughter, Genevieve L’Esperance has been teaching girls coding and this video conveys more than my words can ever do.

(From Progress)

Party of Small Business!

By vijay riyait.

As a former secretary of the Federation of Small Businesses in Leicester, the easiest way for me to bring an unnerving quiet to a room of small business owners used to be to say that I was a Labour party member. In my experience, small businesses have had a distrust of all politicians for many years, believing that they favour the corporates of the world. They know that politicians always promise to understand their concerns and their struggles but deep down they are not really convinced that they do. With the decline in trust in the political class in general, this, I believe, is echoed in the small business world. Small business owners, like many ordinary people, wondering whether politicians or even politics has the answer. Labour has to show that politics does matter in small business in supporting and valuing it.

So, where has this attitude come from about Labour from small business owners? There is the usual that Labour can’t manage the economy effectively. This is normally expressed by them saying ‘if we ran our businesses like Labour ran the economy, we would’ve been bust long ago’. Then there are the regulations, which they see as Labour dramatically increasing in their time in office. But really it’s the fact that they do not believe that Labour shares their values of entrepreneurship, hard work, self-reliance and building wealth.

If we look at the numbers, there are 4.5 million small businesses. SMEs account for 99 per cent of all businesses, 58.8 per cent of private sector employment and 48.8 per cent of private sector turnover. SMEs employ an estimated 13.8 million people and have an estimated £1,500bn turnover. From these few facts, it’s clear that SMEs are the life blood of our economy. They’re the engine room of growth of the UK and the employer of most of our fellow citizens.

Labour needs a culture shift to understand small businesses and their owners and what they contribute to the economic success of our nation but also, just as importantly, what they contribute to the wellbeing of local communities. I work with a project called ProHelp run by Leicestershire Cares, which brings together SMEs who give pro bono support to charitable and community organisations. They regularly give tens of thousands of pounds of vital support per year, often being the difference between the community organisation surviving or failing.
While Labour was right to bring in the minimum wage and champion current campaigns like the living wage we also have to work to make the life of small business owners easier, allow them to grow, find new markets and adopt innovative practices. Labour does have a good story to sell on enterprises with our strong links with the cooperative movement and the social enterprise model.

How do we make this cultural shift? It requires building relationships with small businesses in our community, understanding their issues and campaigning with them to bring about change which helps the businesses to be more successful. In Leicester West CLP we’re working together with Movement for Change to set up a Leicester Business Forum where the local Labour party can engage with business owners, listen to them and act on their concerns. This is vitally important for us in Leicester Labour as the national conference of the Federation of Small Businesses is in Leicester in 2013, so this presents us with a huge opportunity to show Labour can be the party of small business and entrepreneurship. It’s only through true understanding at a grassroots level can Labour hope to build the national policies that will see the SME sector lead us out of this economic depression.

Fringe Success!

There were many themes to this years Labour conference, but a strong one much to surprise was that of small business. Labour ran a business day on the Monday in which the shadow cabinet met with business people from all over the country. Then on the Monday there was an open microphone session in Manchester Central where delegates and representatives could put their questions to the Labour business team. There were a few good fringe events too, with the Fabians doing one on the changing nature of work. The Federation of Small Business also invited Ed Balls a meeting. There had been much talk about finance, innovation and the changing of the work place. That small business will be the driver that propels the economy forward was common currency.  The recovery will not be led by a few large firm but by many small ones. The need to empower small business isn’t just about the economy it is about empowering a generation.

Then on the Tuesday Ed Milliband had used his conference speech to tell people the small businessman Arthur Henderson whose firm had been let down by the banks and the financial institutions. Bank are there he noted to serve business it is not the other way round. This echoes strongly opinions and discussions already taking place in the City among institutions themselves about where it all went wrong and what they need to do to fix it.

In the evening it was the turn of the Labour Small Business Forum. The Forum is a network of Labour members and supporters who work for themselves or in a small business and we held our fringe meeting and invited speakers to come and talk with us. Instead of being external organisation coming to talk to Labour the idea of the forum is for us to talk about small business ourselves as we are the party of small business. The distinction is that instead of small business coming to the party to talk to the members to raise issues, we the network  and members ask them to discuss with us. The distinction between the two positions may sound small but it is important. The aim of the Labour Small Business Forum is that Labour if is to become the party for small business, it needs to be the party OF small business. Which means that we need to organise the thousands of people in the party working for or in small firms or as self-employed.

We had the best small business line up at conference. After my introduction in which I stressed the importance of modernising the way we work and supporting emerging firms and freelance working, John Walker the national chairman of the Federation of Small Business picked up on my comments about IR35 and agreed that it was a complicated and unwieldy tax that has not been resolved and was a bar for going into business. He reiterated the familiar problems that small businesses have with getting hold of finance from the banks. Confidence in financial institutions is a problem and he made reference to the mis-selling of interest rate swaps to many of his members. This chimed with what Ed had said during his speech. As a policy call he suggested that it was hard for small firms to initially grow and take on people and suggested offering an NI holiday to firms that did this.

He was followed by Dr Jo Twist of the UKIE (the trade association for the UK’s games industry), her points neatly dovetailed with his as she talked about the phenomena of crowdfunding which was a way that investors could lend to companies directly using the internet as a platform and thereby circumnavigating the banks. Which the chair noted that commentators saying that pouring subsidy into banking may end up destroying this new innovation’. Jo explained how in the USA they have passed the JOBS Act which makes it easier for this sort of lending to take place and now places like Silicon Valley are a light with such funding. She said the FSA need s to make similar allowances in the UK. She had discussed this recently with Harriet Harman at a round table session.  The other issue have for their members and the growing number of small micro-firms that start in the games is the training and skills and they have lobbied successfully to reintroduce coding into the curriculum at school. So people will not only know how to use WORD but could write one too. Her policy call was to offer to collaborate with Labour in delivering an excellent technical baccalaureate.

Following on the theme of innovation was RichardLittle from the PPMA. Richard who has a manufacturing background whose success comes in part from design and development talked about the need for Britain to celebrate its status as a nation of inventors and innovators, rather than being embarrassed by it. He suggested also a scheme whereby people could sign over unwanted patents to the state as an endowment and also for Government to make it easy to take advantage of new inventions and innovations in places like the NHS. He said he would know we were successful when we started putting up statues to inventors again, like the one for Greathead near Bank Station in London.

Emily Thomas, who had been a special advisor at the Treasury and the DTi talked about the difficulties in setting employee owned business and the amount of bureaucracy that is in involved. She noted that only 14-15% of entrepreneurs are women and we need to do something to level the playing field so women can go into business. She noted that women are often suited to business as it can offer flexibility. Discussions noted  that it was also about modernising both tax and public services too so they work for the 21st century. She noted that Government spends billions of pounds each year on procurement and needs to do more to ensure that more of these contracts go to small firms.
In answer to the other panellist Shadow Minister Toby Perkins MP, who had run his own firm before entering Parliament acknowledged the concerns raised by the other speakers and was interested in the points raised by Richard Little on patents. He pledged that Labour would support
Vince Cable's plans for a British Investment bank, though he suspected that the coalition may not complete delivery of it but Labour would finish off when re-elected.  He noted the importance of skills and the technical baccalaureate and welcomed Jo Twists discussions about crowdfunding. He noted too the diversity of ownership but the need to encourage and support more enterpreneurs (as he had been himself).

The meeting rounded off with a number of questions from the audience whose number now included Chris Leslie MP who came to listen and seemed also pleased at the enthusiasm and passion that the meeting was showing for small business and Labour.

Monday 8 October 2012

Invention and Innovation - Foundations for success

Our small business fringe meeting was addressed by Richard Little of the PPMA. He talked about the great British success story of innovation and invention and his contribution was widely discussed by members of the forum and those at the the event. Below is an article by Richard covering his main themes.

Friday 5 October 2012

Ukie CEO offers to work with Labour on new ‘TechBacc’ to create a new generation of digital creative entrepreneurs

 October 2012 - London, United Kingdom – 

CEO of games and interactive entertainment trade body Ukie, has today used a speech at the ‘How Labour can put small business first’ event, held at the party’s Conference, to comment on the announcement by Ed Milliband that Labour would introduce a new Technical Baccalaureate qualification.

Commenting on the 'TechBacc' announcement, Dr Twist said: "We need more young people knowing how to code, how to be creative with code, and how to be the next generation of digital entrepreneurs, so I welcome any announcement that looks at how we can improve how people learn relevant skills that allow them to work with and create technology. I would welcome the opportunity to work with the Labour party so that the Technical Baccalaureate can be rigorous and relevant to create this new generation."

Dr Twist further emphasised the importance of skills to the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry, particularly of getting children learning computer science and art:

Dr Twist said that work should continue with this government to deliver the skills required by the games industry: “Through our Next Gen Skills campaign, we have successfully called for computer science to be introduced on to the national curriculum and as of this month it is there. But the job is not yet done and we now need enough teachers to teach it, in an engaging and exciting way.

But we also need artists, as it is in the mix of technology and art that much innovation comes from. Our education system needs to recognise this and encourage cross over and collaboration between different educational disciplines.”

Dr Twist also used the ‘How Labour can put small business first’ event to call for more to be done to improve access to finance for the UK’s games businesses, citing crowdfunding as a viable and sustainable source of non-bank lending.

Dr Twist said: “As an innovative industry, the games industry is always embracing innovative funding models. And we’re seeing more and more games companies successfully use crowdfunding to bring money to their businesses.”

The Labour SmallBusiness Forum panel, Jo Twist, Richard Little Philip Ross (chair), Toby Perkins MP, John Walker (FSB) and Emily Thomas
“We’re also seeing a number of UK crowdfunding platforms emerge. We believe that crowdfunding can fill a real gap that exists for games businesses that cannot get support from banks or VCs. However, the current regulatory system is, understandably, not designed with crowdfunding in mind and creates barriers for crowdfunding platforms to be established and to operate as effectively as possible.
“Recognition from the FSA of the existence and potential of crowdfunding as a separate, unique form of financing, followed by the creation of regulations covering crowdfunding as a distinct model or platform, will be crucial in accelerating the growth of this industry and its offering to the wider UK economy.”

Small Business Fringe Great Success!

With an attendance of about 50 people, our fringe was a great success, a more detailed report to follow.