More regulation, less regulation, or better regulation?

There are those who believe the EU is a legislative behemoth, producing vast reams of paper designed to swamp business. Certainly UKIP and their political allies love to make capital out of it, trotting out the statistic that 75% of laws applicable in the UK come from Brussels. The reality, as ever, is not quite so simple. Much EU regulation concerns the protection of workers, ensuring a host of rights and safeguards are in place to protect them from less than scrupulous employers. Less regulation isn’t better for them.

Ask any small business in any EU Member State, and they worry about the burden placed on them by rules, when all they want to do is get on with what they’re good at. Reflecting this, the new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has in fact designated his right-hand man, Frans Timmermans, as First Vice-President and Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights. Juncker’s message is clear: the EU needs neither less nor more regulation, but better regulation. Timmermans, during his hearing before the Parliament prior to his confirmation as Commissioner, pledged to conclude an agreement between the EU’s institutions on better law-making, and also setting out a list of legislative proposals which should be withdrawn. The new decentralised structure of the Commission also reflects this desire to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, allowing the seven Vice-Presidents to scrap any proposal coming from Commissioners in their brief.

However, the financial crash has shown us the danger of under-regulation. With increasingly interconnected sectors, if we don’t build in safeguards, the risk that one company extended into several markets finds itself in the position of being ‘too big to fail’ is a real one. With so many people still feeling the effects of the crisis in the UK and across Europe, it is difficult to justify regulation simply being dismissed not on its merits, but because there is already a lot of regulation in the field.

There is therefore a trade-off. Sometimes we need to accept that certain areas, in particular the financial sector, should and will be subject to regulation. Added to that, complex subjects, like the environment or chemicals, require a great deal of complex regulation. On the other hand, European law-makers must be aware that too much complex regulation risks making starting a business or hiring an extra employee seem less attractive. Given that small and medium enterprises represent 99.8% of European business, and are now responsible for 85% of new jobs in the private sector, the new Commissioners will have their work cut out in ensuring that this balance is struck.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

The Tory- led coalition has helped the rich to get richer and it is the poor who’ve paid for it, according to a new study. The report published last week was produced jointly by Essex University and the London School of Economics.

The study found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne-who famously said “we’re all in this together”-has been engaged in a significant transfer of income form the least well off half of the population to the ore affluent in the past four years.

The government had always insisted that the burden of austerity should be shared fairly and equally, but the research found startling evidence indicating that the poorest have been hit hardest. In many ways it’s not surprising of course. But this independent study provides some startling evidence to support, what has been, theory.

The researchers revealed, among other things, that with the exception of the top 5% of the country who lost a total of 1% of their potential income, the more well off half of the country has gained financially from benefit and income tax changes, seeing increases of between 1.2% and 2% in their disposable income.

The top 1% income earners have seen net gains following changes introduced by the coalition government which include a cut in the top rate of income tax.

Meanwhile, lone parents lost much more through cuts to benefits and tax credits while being faced with higher income tax allowances. Also a quarter of those on the lowest pay have shouldered a particularly heavy burden losing more than 5% of what would have been their income without the coalition’s reforms, the report found.

Labour is right to assert that neither the pain of austerity nor the rewards of the economic recovery have been equitably shared. Indeed, the Guardian reported on Saturday that Ed Miliband told a meeting of party members in the West Midlands: “This country is too unequal and we need to change it.”

The Trussel Trust, which runs emergency food banks in the UK predicts an increase in attendance over the next few months. Its chairman, Chris Mould, told the Observer: “It is not true to say that we have all been in this together. It is time we were honest about that and made a decision about whether we are happy with that.”

While Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, responded to the report by stating: “This important analysis offers further evidence that children in low-income families are among the groups losing the most as a result of cuts to benefits and tax credits.”

Lord Sugar, has urged David Cameron to offer more support to the growing numbers of self-employed workers after official figures revealed their pay has plummeted under the Tory- led coalition government.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed self-employed incomes have fallen 14% since 2010 when Cameron came eto office.
Meanwhile a separate analysis from the Office for National Statistics revealed the average real income of the self-employed fell by 9%, from £24,000 to £22,000 a year.

Lord Sugar called for the Prime Minister to: “Clear the path for hard-working self-employed people to concentrate on what they do best”.

The actress Imelda Staunton has made an interesting observation. She said that while older women are celebrated in this country in film and television at least, pressure is applied in the form of impossible images which younger women are expected to uphold which she described as “wrong’ and “revolting”.

She was speaking at a Telegraph Wonder Women event.

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FTSE 100 on target to reach 25% of women on boards

Good news from the prestigious Cranfield School of Management. Its latest research found the percentage of women on boards has now reached 22.8% – close to the 25% target set by Lord Davies for 2015.

The report said that great progress has been made since the publication of Lord Davies’ report. They found the percentage of women on the boards of the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 had increased by 82% and 124% respectively.

While this is good news, of course, we should approach these latest figures with caution. While the last of the all-male FTSE 100 companies appointed its first woman director earlier in the year, there are still 28 from the FTSE 250 which have all male boards. In addition, the report hasn’t outlined how many of the women from the FTSE 100 and 250 are non-executive directors. Some of them will be of course and this means there input could be limited depending on how the individual company views non-executive directors. They may have a seat at the table but will they have the opportunity to voice their opinions?

Just yesterday, for example, the Independent reported that FTSE 250 miner, Petra Diamonds, finally appointed a woman to its board.
But the South African accountant and businesswoman, Octavia Matloa, will join the diamond miner as an independent non-executive director sitting on its audit committee. How much power she will have to affect change is up for debate. I hope that her seat at the table isn’t just as a result of Vince Cable’s letter to 28 FTSE 250 companies who he told to improve the diversity of their boards after it was revealed 28 companies from the FTSE 250 had no women on them.

Despite the concerns the figures from Cranfield are promising. Furthermore, the academics predict that the FTSE 100 will hit the 25% target during 2015, with the FTSE 250 following in 2016. Just 24 more women are needed in the FTSE 100 and 150 across the FTSE 250 in order to reach the target of 25%.

However, mandatory targets will be far more effective and a figure of 50% could be achieved much quicker with enforceable goals.

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Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Ed Miliband will reassure business leaders today that a Labour government would never risk the economy by threatening to take Britain out of the EU.

Addressing the CBI conference today he will attack Cameron’s stance on the EU as “putting Britain in jeopardy”. He will tell the audience that those who advocate withdrawal from the EU or even flirt with it are risking Britain’s future prosperity.

David Cameron’s threat to leave the European Union is a danger to millions of jobs, businesses and goes against the national interest, he will tell the audience of business leaders.

Indicating that he has a far better understanding of how to achieve what is in Britain’s interest Miliband will promise not to play political games with Britain’s membership nor will he ever ‘risk’ the economy by threatening an exit.

Meanwhile, a group of backbench Tory rebels are expected to oppose plans for Britain to sign up to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) scheme.

They claim the scheme is unnecessary and could cause miscarriages of justice. However, I along with many other supporters believe a system which allows suspects to be extradited quickly between member states is essential. Without it we are forced to use extradition treaties and because we have different treaties for different countries it is extremely complicated. The process is bureaucratic, protracted and difficult to follow meaning criminals who are guilty take even longer to be brought to justice. Some even argue that without it Britain will become a ‘safe haven’ for criminals.

Some of you may remember that the government opted out of all of the 133 EU police and criminal justice measures in 2013, although it now wants to re-join 35 of the measures, including the EAW. However, we have only until 1 December to do so after which point it will be too late.

It’s another example of how Cameron has played with Britain’s membership. We are dangerously close to the deadline of joining this important scheme and there is no guarantee that today’s vote will result in a victory because so many of Cameron’s MPs are threatening to rebel.

Sky political correspondent, Sophie Ridge, offered insight into the future make up of parliament- she has analysed the selections of the Tories, Lid Dems and Labour parties to see how gender balanced they are. Of the results she was able to find so far, she found: “The Conservatives have selected 76 male candidates and 43 female, Labour have picked 79 men and 59 women and the Lib Dems 72 men and 35 women. Ukip refused to give me their candidate selection list, and it’s not available anywhere online (so much for transparency.)

It means 36 per cent of the Conservative candidates are female, Labour has 43 per cent and the Lib Dems come last with just 33 per cent of female candidates.”

She goes on to point out “The figures are even more concerning when you consider just how few women there are already in Parliament – just 148 female MPs compared to 502 men. In short – don’t expect to see a representative Parliament any time soon.”

Last week I wrote three posts and an article for Labour List about the gender pay gap. If Parliament can’t get its gender balance right then what hope is there that the business world, and other industries in Britain can get their gender balance right; and what motivation is there to close the gender pay gap?

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‘Calm down dear’

“Calm down Dear”- the now infamous quote David Cameron snarled at Angela Eagle back in 2011, and which was done in patronising tones. And today Lord Hill, Britain’s EU Commissioner, called for ‘calm’ following Cameron’s hysterical response to finding out the UK owed £1.7bn to the EU.

Speaking in measured tones Lord Hill’s said the right response to the situation was to calmly find a solution.

Cameron reacted angrily last month on learning of the bill and has further infuriated our European partners by saying he won’t pay what is owed by the 1 December deadline.

Addressing the issue, however, Hill outlined how he intended to resolve it. Somewhat diplomatically he said it was a technical matter which a ‘group of people’ (translated as the government) have let become political.

Thankfully Hill has a better understanding than Cameron of how the business of politics works in the EU and understands that ranting and stomping about simply doesn’t work.

Asked by John Humphrey’s on the Today Programme his thoughts on his new role he said that he viewed his job was to act as a translator between his old friends in the UK and his new friends in the EU.

Again indicating he has a better understanding of Britain’s position in the European Union than many of his UK colleagues, Hill said he was required to act in the interests of all the EU’s 28 states, not just promote UK views.




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Women’s football ticket sales surpass men’s…but their pay is still lagging

Some 50,000 fans are expected to watch England Vs Germany at Wembley on 23 November. There is nothing either revolutionary or ground breaking about this, except that it is, because I didn’t mention it’s the England women’s football team. The record ticket sales (currently 45,000) are already more than the 40,081 who paid to watch the England men’s team last friendly against Norway in September.

Women’s football is now a serious sport, and this should be reflected not just in the pay, which is notoriously bad, but its players deserve far greater respect from the FA than is currently offered. Indeed if the Football Association wants to draw big crowds then it need not look any further than to the women’s team to bring in the fans.

It would also be helpful if the likes of Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, stopped making misogynistic comments concerning women’s attire in the game. For those who have forgotten what he said, Blatter suggested women players wear tighter shorts in order to promote a more ‘female aesthetic.’

“They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” he said.

Despite these ridiculous comments, young women and girls are taking to the sport in their droves. It is now played by 250,000 females in England and it is the fourth most participated team sport after men’s football, rugby and cricket. It’s predicted (by the FA) that by 2018, at its current rate of growth it will be second in the table surpassing rugby and cricket.

Despite its popularity and its ability to fill Wembley Stadium, women footballers are still paid significantly less than a Premier League player’s weekly wage.

The game at Wembley this month will be an important milestone, and surely this will be the much needed wake-up call required to change how women in the sport are paid.

Football isn’t the only offender of course, but other sports (tennis for example) have addressed the issue and prize money for the Wimbledon tournament is now exactly the same as their male counterparts.

It’s simple. Nothing bad will happen if parity for women footballers is achieved. After all, they train just as hard and are rivalling their male counterparts in the numbers of crowds they can draw.

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Equal Pay Day?

Today is Equal Pay Day, so how depressing to learn that the gender pay gap has increased. The organisers of the day calculated that for every 12 months a man works, women will have to work for 15 months to earn the same amount. Or how about this statistic; from today until the New Year women will effectively work for free (for the next 57 days) as a result of the gender pay gap.

It is more than 40 years after the Equal pay act and women are still earning less than men. And this year it widened for the first time in five years by .9%.

The economy has clearly had an effect on this gap, affecting women adversely of course. If we look back to the previous government it closed by a third between 1997 and 2010 in the UK. But it since plateaued and is now back on the rise.

One of the problems is how we organise our labour market and make our childcare arrangements. Women are disadvantaged in every way after having children yet there are so many more things we can do to achieve a fairer more balanced market which doesn’t disadvantage women.

It’s deeply embarrassing, frustrating and offensive that a gap not only still exists but has widened. And what message does this send to young women. What about their aspirations?

Significant action needs to be taken to address this stark gap. The Labour Party has said that companies should be required by law to publish full details of the difference in pay between men and women. The Party is calling for a vote to change the policy and to get big companies to publish their pay gap.

A Labour government will introduce the compulsory scheme for companies with 250 or more employees if it wins the next election.

Further action should be required by those companies who publish their difference in pay; they should be urged to also publish targets showing how they will seek to reduce the gap.

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