Trussed up? | What does Liz Truss as PM mean for HR and businesses?

What does Liz Truss as PM mean for HR and businesses?

Liz Truss has now been sworn in as Prime Minister of the UK – the country's fourth in 12 years – after beating Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson. Truss, who is an MP for South West Norfolk, won the Conservative Party leadership contest with 57% votes.

Taking to Twitter, the new PM wrote: “Thank you for putting your trust in me to lead and deliver for our great country. I will take bold action to get all of us through these tough times, grow our economy, and unleash the United Kingdom’s potential."

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The United Kingdom, however, is currently being hampered by issues that the new leader will need to act informedly and swiftly upon. Supply chain issues, the Great Resignation, Brexit, the war in Russia, Ofgem’s failure to regulate energy tariffs and a huge dependence on fossil fuels, have all inevitably brought the world’s fifth largest economy to its knees. And of course, it’s only going to get worse.

Pundits from across industries are predicting that SMEs, which comprise three-fifths of the total numbers of employed people in Great Britain and NI, and bring in approximately half of the turnover in the UK private sector (figures: UK gov), are set to fail at record rates this winter. At the start of 2021, the total employment in SMEs was 16.3million (61% of the total employment in the country), and the turnover was estimated at £2.3trillion (a full 52% of turnover).


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The new leader will need to make the right decisions for the economy, our trading and diplomatic relationship with Europe and of course, on energy bills and taxes (the new ‘death and taxes’).

Whatever your politics, the most important thing when assessing any leader – particularly their impact on business and workers’ rights – is to take a look at their policies. Liz Truss has famously been reticent to share specific policies, even when pushed by journalists who were trying to discover the cut of her jib so that the British public was informed. But so far, here’s what we know from Truss's interviews, speeches and soundbites, categorised and in a nicely bulleted list.

Employment law 

  • A possible reduction in the cap on 48-hour working week (unconfirmed, but shared by multiple sources)

  • Introducing a new law on minimum staffing levels during strikes (within the first 30 days of taking office). The threshold will be set individually for each industry

  • Reducing holiday leave for Civil Service staff from 27 days to 25 days per annum

  • Removing the right to paid leave to carry out trade union activities

  • Removing individual roles for diversity and inclusion within the NHS

  • Reversing the NI hike that was put in place to fund the NHS.

It is important to note here that the UK is one of the worst in Europe on workers’ rights such as fair payments, holiday allowance, benefits, maternity and paternity leave, compassionate leave, violating trade union agreements, etc., according to multiple studies by the Institute for Employment Rights (amongst others).

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD, told HR Grapevine: “The new Government should strongly resist any temptation to water down employment rights and protections for workers. The UK is already one of the most lightly regulated labour markets among developed economies, with above-average employment levels and a high proportion of workers in permanent employment.  

“Business surveys consistently show that the UK’s SMEs don’t see employment regulation as a significant impediment to growth, which strongly suggests that any push to deregulate in this area would be an unnecessary and potentially damaging distraction.

"Instead, the Government should focus on delivering on previous commitments to reform labour market enforcement and support the creation of more flexible workplaces. These changes to policy can help raise employment standards overall and create more better-quality jobs,” Willmott added.

Alan Price, CEO at Bright HR, told HR Grapevine that HR and businesses need to be poised to implement any changes. He said: “Employers will welcome some direction from Government now a new PM is in place.

“However, as with any changes to employment rights and law, this will mean new policies, changes to existing policies and training on new processes. It’s important for employers to take note of these changes and seek advice to ensure they are up to date on all the latest guidance,” Price added.

Cost-of-living crisis

  • Cutting Corporation Tax (which will rise from 19 to 25% in April 2023) – Truss estimates this will cost £17billion over the fiscal year, but hopes that the increase in economic spending would offset it. Economic pundits do not predict that this will be the case, and will leave the economy and government in a worse position

  • Reversing the National Insurance contributions increase – a move that will benefit the highest earners 250 times more than the poorest (approximately £1,800 in benefit for the highest earners, and just £7 back for lowest earners). When confronted on this, Truss said “to look at everything through the lens of redistribution, I believe, is wrong.”

It is important to note here that the UK has the second highest income equality amongst any of the G7 nations (McKinsey report, 2021).

Samantha O’Sullivan, Policy Lead at the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals, said that scrapping the NI hike and corporation tax may not be feasible as a quick solution.

She said: “For Truss, and her new cabinet, the focus needs to be on providing clarity to businesses and their employees on how they will tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Because it is just that – a crisis. Decisive and clear action has to be taken.

“Truss previously pledged to ‘start cutting taxes from day one’, meaning an immediate budget scrapping the National Insurance (NI) hike as well as the planned corporation tax rise. Whether ‘from day one’ is actually feasible or not is up for debate.


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“Payroll is the largest cost for businesses, and many are desperately trying to find ways to further support their staff. As an example, our own research recently noted a surge in firms (19%) considering offering pay on-demand, easing household cashflow.

“The coming days will be key to understanding what pledges will be realised, from national insurance to corporation and income tax,” O’Sullivan added.

Willmott commented that action to support the economy also needs to focus on skills shortages and a candidate-first labour market.

“The immediate priority for the new Prime Minister is to take action to support individuals and businesses through the cost-of-living crisis,” he said, “especially as it spikes during the winter.  Effective and targeted support will be required to help workers and companies impacted most severely by spiralling energy costs.

“However, it’s crucial that the Government also acts to increase business productivity and growth by making key reforms to skills and other areas of policy that can boost employers’ investment in training, management capability and technology,” he added.

Energy

Unfortunately, Truss has repeatedly declined to comment on any actual energy policies – which could indicate that she doesn't actually know what to do. Several pundits have discussed capping energy prices at £1,000 per household, but that Truss has yet to confirm. New legislation on energy tarrifs, a possible investigation into Ofgem's fitness-for-purpose and of course, fuel stipends for the vulnerable, disabled and elderly, are all options.

So far, she’s dismissed direct handouts (including for energy bills) as ‘Gordon Brown economics’, but that doesn't amount to having a viable plan herself.

The only clear thing Truss has offered is that she has declared herself fully committed to giving British businesses and the country some form of energy plan “within one week” of taking office.

Considering that people are having to choose between heating or eating as soon as next month, there really is no time like the present, for clear and decisive action on the fuel crisis.

It remains to be seen whether Truss is the person to steer us through the post-pandemic mire. 



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