Business leaders have raised concerns about Gordon Brown’s plans for extended maternity leave, although there was broad approval for the chancellor’s commitment to improving the UK’s skills base.
In his pre-Budget report last week, Brown announced that £285m would be allocated to extend paid maternity leave from six months to nine months, with the goal of eventually increasing this to an entire year. And for the first time, paid maternity leave would be transferrable to fathers.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that new rights for working mothers are coming at “too fast and too furious a rate”.
“Small firms are hit the hardest from the increases in costs associated with providing temporary cover,” said Simon Sweetman, vice-chairman of the FSB’s taxation committee.
“The administration of maternity leave is already a headache for small firms, and the proposed transferability of maternity leave will make this worse,” he said.
Digby Jones, CBI director-general, said the extension of maternity rights will leave too much of a burden on businesses’ hands.
“Having both parents share parental leave sounds fine in principle, but who is going to police the system?” he said. “Employers should not be responsible for finding out how much time each parent is entitled to. “It is not fair for business to be blamed for intruding into people’s private lives.”
Better news for business arrived in the form of Brown’s announcement of the national roll-out of employer training programmes.
Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: “We welcome the Government’s emphasis on skills. The roll-out of employer training pilots across the country should help to improve basic skills. This is crucial for British business success.”