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Childcare: “Sir Alan Sugar’s got the wrong attitude”

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Swanton, who set up London-based Way to Blue in 1999, admits that maternity leave (and the double whammy of hiring a replacement) doesn’t come cheap. He reckons it can set him back a stonking £75,000.

Out of his 45 employees, over two thirds are women.

"I’m a huge supporter of flexible working rights and the government’s plans to extend maternity/paternity leave," he says. "We offer great benefits, which are well above the statutory obligation.

"Someone who has worked for us for two years, for example, would be entitled to 90 per cent of their pay during the first six weeks of leave, followed by 60 per cent of their pay for the next 20 weeks.

"A lot of other businessmen have a Daily Mail, right-wing attitude to it and wonder why on earth I’m so generous – but I think of it as an investment.

"People come back to work extremely motivated. Another perk is maternity cover – we get to ‘test drive’ new employees."

But not all business owners are such strong advocates of the maternity laws in this country: "They need to be changed," says Susan Payne, founder of Surrey-based investment firm Emergent Asset Management. "They’re absurdly generous to women and they force companies to favour male colleagues."

"Women are women’s worst critics," comments Swanton. "If businesses were found to be favouring male employees, they would quite rightly be bollocked.

"You do hear about discrimination at boardroom level but attitudes are improving. Someone I know has just been made a partner at KPMG – despite the fact she works four days a week and is planning on having another child. I doubt that would have happened ten years ago.

"Then again, you still have people like Sir Alan Sugar quizzing that poor girl [Katie Hopkins] about her childcare arrangements on The Apprentice.

"If you don’t want anything to do with children, you might as well just employ gay men."

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