Clegg's new baby may not be a bundle of joy for business
For the last few months, the Deputy Prime Minister has been the bearer of much bad news. Cuts have been the order of the day and when not announcing the reduction in some budget or other, he's spent the rest of the time trying to placate Liberal Democrat voters who fear the party may have sold its soul for the promise of power.
So when yesterday, Mr Clegg confirmed the coalition would not only press ahead with plans drawn under the previous Labour government to overhaul maternity and paternity leave, he clearly saw it as a rare opportunity to deliver some good news.
Under the proposals, fathers will be able to take up any remaining unpaid maternity leave if mothers go back to work early, up to a maximum of six months, and there was more.
Denouncing the current system as "Edwardian", he talked of increased opportunities for fathers to take time off to look after their children, allowing parental leave to be taken in a number of chunks, rather than a single block and additional concessions of "use it or lose it" leave.
However, before Mr Clegg had even retaken his seat, it became clear the move was not going down well in some quarters, particularly among those organisations which represent the country's already-struggling small businesses.
"Business is not against the principle of shared parental leave, but how is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully-flexible system?" said David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. "This is too difficult for small businesses to deal with and could prevent them from taking on staff at a time when they are expected to create wealth and jobs.
"The rigid rules Nick Clegg refers to and plans to abolish are the very same rules needed by business to help them plan.
"This is yet another example of rushed thinking. It suggests that the Government is out of touch with how to support business owners. This sort of red tape is like a sledgehammer hitting small businesses which should be sources of growth and jobs."
The Government has promised Ministers will consult fully before making any changes, but many believe the proposals are unworkable.
"Our current system of maternity leave is already costly for firms and difficult to operate," added a spokesman for the Institute of Directors. "If employees were allowed to take leave in short blocks, the system would become virtually unmanageable – how would firms arrange cover? You do not promote economic growth by making it harder for firms to employ people and encumbering them with time-consuming regulations."
However, with countries like Norway and Iceland having pioneered a more equal approach to parenting, many believe that the time is right to rethink current maternity policy.
Towards the end of last year the Fatherhood Institute produced its own research into parental leave which suggested the blueprint used by other European countries could be adopted in the UK.
"Every year the UK invests significant financial resources to enable parents to take time off from work to care for new born babies and infants," said Rob Williams, the organisation's chief executive. "The current system, under which fathers are sent back to work after only two weeks and mothers are ushered into the home, denies any real choice to couples about how they want to arrange their lives. It puts pressure on families and relationships, drives a huge gender pay gap and costs our economy billions of pounds each year in wasted talent.
"The coalition came to power with the goal of making Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe, and rearranging the current system of leave available to parents is the most important step the Government can make.
"However the option for the mother to transfer the last 26 weeks of maternity leave will not make a big difference to the real choices to available to parents, because the leave is unpaid. The bigger ideas which the Government is considering, including paid leave for fathers on a 'use it or lose it' basis will open the door to much more equal sharing of parenting between men and women and give them a much better chance of successfully making the transition from happy couples to stable parents."