Not the best time to extend parental leave, but not the biggest problem either, says chamber

PROPOSALS for fathers to be able to take up to 46 weeks of parental leave following the birth of a child will put pressure on SMEs but it’s not the biggest obstacle facing businesses right now, according to Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce.

From April 2011, fathers will already have the right to take up to six months of parental leave from the mother’s existing allowance. Nick Clegg has today suggested that could be extended to up to ten months from 2015.

Reacting to the new proposals John Bridge OBE (above), Chief Executive of Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, said, “Legislation passed by the previous government to enable fathers to share up to six months of the parental leave coming into force from April is not the gratest timing, but it’s not the biggest obstacle facing businesses right now. Coming less than a week after David Cameron claimed to be spearheading a pro-growth, pro-business, pro-jobs agenda, SMEs up and down the country will be left feeling daunted by the prospect of yet another set of employment rules and legislation to get their heads around.

“But in reality, we expect the impact on business from April to be fairly limited. There will certainly be a financial disadvantage for most men choosing to take up their right to six months leave, but more importantly businesses have already shown that they are resilient and adaptable. And that’s what businesses will do when a new father exercises a right to time off – they’ll simply adapt, just as they would if a member of staff was signed off for six months for medical reasons. At least this way they will have time to prepare and plan.”

Speaking on Nick Clegg’s indications that further reform could see fathers take up to ten months off work, John Bridge said, “Businesses are constantly adapting. Roles in the workplace are evolving. And let’s put it in perspective; businesses could lose key players at any time, and for a multitude of reasons. They either plan for it in advance, or they simply react to it and adapt when it happens. The proposals for ten months of leave for fathers are a long way off, and a great deal of discussion and consultation will take place before anything becomes set in stone. That said, none of the proposals fit very well with the British Chambers of Commerce’s vision for ‘delivering a year for growth’. Whatever else it has in the pipeline, the government should be thinking now about making employment and recruitment easier. And that is something these policies certainly won’t do.”