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New legislation to create the right conditions for UK business growth

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Supporting SMEs

What does the Bill mean for business?

  • Changes to Employment tribunal processes
  • Competition reform
  • Regulatory reform
  • Simplifying and strengthening equality regulations
  • Clarification on civil liability for breaches of health and safety duties

If you run a small business how will these changes help you?

Employment

We want to give businesses the tools to resolve disputes without the need for an employment tribunal. Small, medium and micro businesses will benefit in particular from the lower costs involved in settling disputes.

Settlement Agreements

  • We will introduce a cheaper, easier way to agree a settlement with employees to part company on agreed terms.
  • We are developing guidance and a standard model text to use when drafting a statement between an employer and an employee.
  • By making settlement agreements more accessible, we expect more small businesses to feel confident to use them as a means of resolving disputes, avoiding the cost of a tribunal.

Rapid Resolution

The Government will work to develop a faster process for employment tribunal claims, so that parties do not need to attend a hearing. This will save businesses and individuals time and money.

Early Conciliation

  • The Bill introduces a requirement that, before an individual can file a claim at an employment tribunal, they must first contact Acas – the government-sponsored organisation devoted to preventing and resolving employment disputes.
  • Acas will be able to offer parties the chance to settle the dispute through conciliation, before a claim is made to the Employment Tribunal.
  • Settling more disputes in this way will save costs for business as well as individuals.

Competition Reform

Fair Business - © iStockphoto

Fair competition between businesses and access to market entry helps small businesses to compete and grow.

The current system for ensuring fairness can be slow and complicated.  We are therefore changing it to stop small businesses from being at a disadvantage if they experience anti-competitive behaviour:

  • We will make it easier and quicker to tackle anticompetitive practices and prevent big businesses abusing their position.
  • We will introduce a new single Competition and Markets Authority.
  • The new Competition Markets Authority brings together the Competition Commission and the competition work of the Office of Fair Trading.

The Bill will:

  • Give the new Competition and Markets Authority power to delay ongoing mergers, and reverse steps that have already been taken in the merger.
  • Introduce statutory time limits for all parts of the merger review process.
  • Make other aspects of the merger process quicker and more open.
  • Change the law on criminal cartels, to make it harder for groups of businesses to fix prices unfairly. Instead of having to prove the cartel was ‘dishonest’, it will be enough to show that they intended to fix prices or abuse the competition system.

We have also consulted on reforming private enforcement of the competition regime, to follow on from the measures in this Bill which will make it faster and easier for businesses, especially small medium enterprises, to directly challenge anti-competitive behaviour in court; and make it easier for consumers and small businesses who have suffered loss due to anti-competitive behaviour to obtain redress.

Ideas for such help include a Competition Appeals Tribunal fast track for small businesses, to allow small businesses to challenge anti-competitive behaviours quickly and cheaply,  and  new right for a group of businesses or consumers to bring a case collectively.

Regulatory Reform

Red tape - © iStockphoto

Extending the Primary Authority Scheme

The existing scheme allows a business which operates in more than one local authority area to get assured advice on how to comply with regulations such as health and safety or food hygiene from a single local authority – the “Primary Authority”.

All local authority areas in which the business operates must follow the advice given by the Primary Authority.  This means that the business has consistency in the application of rules and regulations, saving time and money.

The Bill will:

  • Enable businesses who share an approach to compliance – perhaps because they belong to a trade association or franchise – to rely on advice given by a single local authority.
  • This will allow thousands more small businesses to access the scheme.
  • Strengthen Inspection Plans so that more businesses can gain credit and recognition for how well they comply with regulations.

Amending the Equality Act 2010

Equality regulations will be simplified and strengthened through a package of measures focused on relieving the burden on business while preserving key legal protection from discrimination.

  • We will repeal measures on procedures for gathering discrimination information, and specific employer liability for third party harassment to help business get on with the job.
  • In addition, we will introduce a power so that we can allow employment tribunals, at a later date, to order an employer to carry out an equal pay audit when they have breached the law.
  • We will also make it easier for SMEs and micro businesses to get good quality advice and support on equality and employment related matters, through industry-led initiatives.

Civil Liability for breaches of health and safety duties 

Currently employers can be liable to pay compensation to employees in health and safety cases even if there is nothing they could have done to prevent the injury and all reasonable steps have been taken.  The fear of being sued drives businesses to over comply with the law resulting in unnecessary additional costs.

The Bill will:

  • Address this unfairness by removing the right to claim compensation from employers for breach of most statutory health and safety duties, unless it can be proved they have acted negligently.
  • This means in future, if a claim is made, employers will have the opportunity to defend themselves on the basis of having done all that was reasonable.
  • Providing this reassurance will help businesses have the confidence to focus on managing health and safety risks in a sensible and proportionate way.

 

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