People issues are top priority for chancellor

It’s pre-Budget time again, and the less cynical among you will notice that chancellor Gordon Brown has been paying close attention to his weekly copy of Personnel Today.

Upskilling and extensions to employee rights feature heavily in his report, and even if this is a pre-election ploy to woo the voters, the fact remains that people issues are well and truly on the agenda.

But business is right to question the practicalities. The suggestion that mothers and fathers could share parental leave seems like a good idea, but who is going to make sure people don’t take advantage of this, as on occasion they are wont to do?

HR will be left in the uncomfortable position of investigating precisely who has taken what, which will inevitably lead to accusations of unwarranted intrusion.

And if parental leave is to be extended, who is going to pay for their replacements, any extra training and the admin? It’ll be the employer, one would imagine.

That said, the plan to increase the skills base in the UK is to be welcomed. Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, claims there will be no unskilled jobs left in the UK by the end of the decade, and the more scaremongering the better when it comes to skills – 80 per cent of the 2010 workforce is not in the education and training system, if you’re not already quaking.

It’s also right for education secretary Charles Clarke to try to safeguard our future through promoting specific courses.

However, it is interesting to note that the first courses listed in Clarke’s announcement are Turkish and Arabic for ‘strategic security reasons’. This raises interesting questions about whether it is skills or security concerns that are really topping the bill.

Still, it is clear that Brown’s family-friendly and skills agenda amounts to nothing short of an endorsement of strong HR. What more could HR want than such a clear mandate from the Government? 2005 should be a big year for the profession.

By Michael Millar, online news editor

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