When Theresa May asked Matthew Taylor to Review Modern Working Practices in the UK it was October 2016. She looked a strong and stable leader with a majority and a nation behind her.
On July 11th, exactly a year after she arrived in Downing Street, Matthew Taylor delivered his review. The Prime Minister spoke at the review’s launch, admitting that her power was diminished and calling for ideas to help her govern.
The demise of the Review’s sponsor has rendered the 116 page document virtually impotent. The Review operates at a high level. While it looks in detail at issues that impact reward and payroll it stops short of making clear recommendations. Instead it calls upon organisations such as the Low Pay Commission to take the baton forward.
This approach was fine at a time of political stability but looks embarrassing today. The Review has met with derision from the unions and left-wing politicians and indifference from those on the right.
While the Review makes all the right noises, its critics point to the weakness of its central conclusion.
The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation, which is why it is important that companies are seen to take good work seriously and are open about their practices and that all workers are able to be engaged and heard.
For those organisations providing “good work” this may provide comfort, but for those who do not listen to and engage with staff, the Review will be read with a sigh of relief.
In her comments at the launch of the Review, the Prime Minister made clear that her Government would not be responding to the Review until much later in the year. The intervening period will of course be dominated by political wrangling over Brexit and it is easy to imagine that the major recommendations made by Taylor will be ignored.
This has happened many times before, most pertinently in the Dilnott report on the funding of social care. A weak Government will be only too aware of the dangers of turning over rocks!
So what can we expect to change? Perhaps the two sections of the report that have immediate impact are threatened fiscal changes to national insurance rates and the quite explicit call to auto-enrol the self-employed into workplace pensions. Coupled with this is a call to move to cashless payments. This has the look and feel of fully thought through policy/
The report calls for a re-assessment of self-employed national insurance rates in line with the proposals put forward in the budget by Philip Hammond. Such a move would drive many of the bogus self-employed back towards employment and ease the problems for employers of determining “worker” status. The proposed category of “dedicated contractor” rather than “worker” should give further help to those determining who to put on payroll and who to invoice.
These definitions will also be helpful in determining eligibility for auto-enrolment. There has clearly been interaction between Taylor and those conducting the current auto-enrolment review. The Government’s manifesto pledge to extend the scope of auto-enrolment suggests that Aviva and Royal London’s proposal to use HMRC or NIC’s to collect self-employed contributions is being taken very seriously.
As auto-enrolment is fast becoming this Government’s major success story, most pension commentators are already considering the inclusion of large numbers of the self-employed in workplace pensions, a done deal.
But for all its length, there is little else in this report that has the feel of deliverable policy in the current febrile political climate.
Having been promised much in October, the prospect of this report sitting on departmental shelves gathering dust is all too real.
Perhaps it will be best remembered for its simple formulation “good work”. If going forward we were to be asked what kind of work we wished to do and were we to answer “good work”, we could always refer them to the 100+ pages of the Taylor report.