Think tank the IPPR have suggested that small and medium sized businesses which are certified as ‘good jobs employers’ should get a one per cent cut in their corporation tax. The organisation cites academic evidence that better job design is the key to raising productivity and wages and has called for the creation of a ‘good jobs standard’ under which firms would be accredited for providing jobs with decent pay and conditions, including opportunities for training, career progression and employee involvement in decision making.
As well as the tax cut, firms would be incentivised to achieve the standard by making it a condition for those bidding for public procurement contracts. The report suggests that one of the assessment tests could be a survey of employees on whether the standard had been achieved.
The report argues that the government’s White Paper on Industrial Strategy, to be published next week, must focus on what it calls the ‘everyday economy’ of ordinary firms where productivity and wages are low. The report argues for the creation of a new body, Productivity UK, to drive productivity improvement in the ‘everyday economy’. This would work with sector bodies and Local Enterprise Partnerships to provide training, advice, guidance and grants to businesses to help them adopt new digital technologies and better management practices. It would work with and scale up the new ‘Be the Business’ initiative of the Productivity Leadership Group.
To improve the nation’s skills base, the report calls for the current Apprenticeship Levy to be converted into a ‘Productivity and Skills Levy’ which could be used for wider range of skills training and job redesign aimed at raising productivity.
“The government is in danger of missing the point in its industrial strategy,” notes Michael Jacobs, director of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice and co-author of the report. “Its focus so far has been on sectors engaged in technological innovation, like automotive and pharmaceuticals. But productivity in these sectors is already high. The UK’s productivity problem lies in the vast majority of ordinary firms, in sectors such as retail, light manufacturing, tourism, hospitality and social care. Unless the White Paper includes a plan to raise productivity in these sectors, it will simply not be addressing the real issue.”
The report urges the government to make ‘good jobs’ a national goal of the industrial strategy. “Good employers – of whom there are many,” notes Jacobs, “know that high quality job design not only improves job satisfaction. It raises productivity and thereby enables higher wages. We need a national campaign to get firms focused on how they can help themselves become more competitive in this way.”
The wide-ranging report, Industrial Strategy: Steering Structural Change in the UK Economy, is being published for the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice. It also recommends:
•An increase in annual public investment spending of at least £20 billion by 2021–22, or around one per cent of GDP. Of this at least £10 billion a year should go towards industrial strategy, including infrastructure, housing, research and development and business growth. This would take total public sector investment in the economy to around three per cent of GDP, the average for OECD countries. The report argues that, at negative real interest rates, the government should borrow to fund the additional spending.
•The creation of a new National Investment Bank with a specific mandate to invest in infrastructure, housing, business growth and innovation, with a strong focus on geographic rebalancing of the economy. Modelled on successful public development banks in other countries, such as Germany’s KfW and the European Investment Bank, the NIB it would seek to ‘co-invest’ with businesses, leveraging in private sector finance.
•Phasing down and ultimately largely abolishing the R&D tax credit and Patent Box scheme. Together these cost around £3.6 billion annually. The report estimates that between 57 and 80 per cent of R&D tax credits are deadweight, subsidising spending which would have happened anyway, at an annual cost of £1.8–1.9 billion. It argues for the savings from phasing down these schemes (R&D tax credit should be available only to firms under five years old, it suggest) should be redirected for direct support to R&D through Innovate UK and the National Investment Bank.
•Key ‘missions’ should be identified to drive the direction of growth and innovation, providing public policy goals to address some of the key challenges faced by the UK and global economy over the next 20 years. We propose three core missions:
> green growth – to reduce make the UK’s environmental footprint to levels consistent with global sustainability the lowest of any developed country by 2040
> responding to demographic change – to make the UK’s population the healthiest and best cared for in the world by 2040
> accelerating the digital economy – to make the UK the most digitally advanced society in the world by 2040.
•New legislation to be drafted for an Industrial Strategy Act to provide a new legal framework. This would clarify the UK’s rules on state aid after we leave the European Union, and provide a robust structure for policy design and evaluation.