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Forum urges Government to think of SMEs before next week’s Queen’s Speech

Ahead of the Queen's Speech next week, the Forum of Private Business has urged the Government to ensure the Groceries Code Adjudicator has the necessary power to fine supermarkets who unfairly abuse their suppliers, and to ensure new laws on parental leave don't unfairly harm small business, particularly with economic recovery pinned on the sector.

Both bills will be announced by Her Majesty in next Wednesday's Queen's Speech, paving the way for both to be ratified by Parliament and set in statute.

The not-for-profit business support group's Senior Policy adviser, Alex Jackman, said of the Groceries Code Adjudicator: "When the draft bill was announced last year we were critical of the fact there were no plans for the adjudicator to have powers to fine supermarkets found to be treating their suppliers unfairly – a glaring omission.

"Our sentiment has not changed and we still feel that an adjudicator without the firepower to deal effectively with supermarket abuse can't be effective.

"Supermarkets nowadays are multi-billion pounds corporate giants driven by money. Frankly, anything less than an adjudicator with the power to take that money from them is simply going to be woefully inadequate.

"Our position is that we support the adjudicator, and want it implemented as soon as possible, but we want the position to have powers to fine immediately, and, crucially, with multiplier fines for repeat offenders. Let's not set up a system whose hands are tied to begin with."

The Queen's Speech will also see the Children and Families Bill before the House. It will look at whether changes should be made to allow all employees to request flexible working, as opposed to only those workers with caring responsibilities now.

"Our position on this is that flexible working is good for some businesses, but they should not be compelled into providing it if it doesn't suit. Further, managers will likely find themselves in the middle of competing requests for flexible leave and will have to arbitrate which is the more deserving case. This is time consuming and will almost certainly lead to conflict between the winners and the losers too – hardly great for encouraging workforce harmony.

"This has the potential to become a real headache for small business."

He added: "The bill also proposes changes to parental leave, making it more generous and more flexible. It could mean a reduction in the statutory maternity leave to 18 weeks, offset by an equal increase in the amount of paid parental leave available to either parent, and also an extra two days of paid leave for fathers to attend ante-natal classes. If that sounds confusing, imagine how it will work out for small firms expected to deal with the paperwork.

"The UK already has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world. This has to be considered very carefully and must not result in a greater cost to small businesses."

The Forum's Alex Jackman and media team will be available before and after the Queen's Speech for media interviews.

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