Sep 10 2012
Unions have reacted with fury to Government plans to streamline employment regulations, warning that exempting businesses from health and safety inspections will lead to more deaths and injuries in the workplace.
Business welcomed Vince Cable's move to scrap or overhaul more than 3,000 regulations, as well as new legislation to protect firms from "compensation culture" claims.
But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that restricting health and safety inspections to firms in higher-risk areas would fuel an "occupational health epidemic" in the UK.
The row came as Mr Cable told MPs that the Government's industrial strategy will include targeted Government support for key sectors such as advanced manufacturing, higher education, the digital industry and the energy supply chain.
While the strategy of "picking winners" had failed in the 1970s, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary said there had been "a swing of the pendulum too far in the opposite direction" in subsequent decades and the UK should learn from countries like South Korea, Germany and Finland where governments work in partnership with key industries.
Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna welcomed the move, but questioned whether Mr Cable had "unequivocal backing" from David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne or even his own team at the Department for Business, where he was last week joined by free-market Tory ministers Michael Fallon and Matthew Hancock.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Mr Cable insisted that he had the "absolutely full support" of the Prime Minister, Chancellor and business colleagues.
The Business Minister insisted that the measures would not allow bosses to "fire at will" but would "deal with the burdensome nature of hiring and firing".
He said: "In these tough times, businesses need to focus all their energies on creating jobs and growth, not being tied up in unnecessary red tape.
"I've listened to those concerns and we're determined to put common sense back into areas like health and safety, which will reduce costs and fear of burdensome inspections."