The Government has sparked fury among unions but won praise from business leaders after announcing that the 90-day period before large scale redundancies can take place is to be cut to 45 days.

Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson was accused of making it easier to sack workers after she unveiled changes from next April which she said were aimed at helping employees and businesses.

Firms planning to make at least 100 redundancies have had to consult with employees, usually through unions, for 90 days, a process which has been in place for years.

The minister said a consultation on the changes had produced a strong argument for shortening the 90-day period, adding: "The process is usually completed well within the existing 90-day minimum period, which can cause unnecessary delays for restructuring, and make it difficult for those affected to get new jobs quickly.

"Our reforms will strike an appropriate balance between making sure employees are engaged in decisions about their future and allowing employers greater certainty and flexibility to take necessary steps to restructure."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The last thing we need is for the Government to make it easier to sack people.

"These measures will not create a single extra job. The idea that an employer will change their mind about taking someone on because the statutory redundancy consultation period has been reduced from 90 to 45 days is close to absurd."

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "In the 21st century, requiring a business to spend a quarter of a year consulting on how to restructure is unnecessary, frustrating and potentially disastrous.

"The new rules will encourage firms to focus on quality consultation with staff and enable timely but fair decisions.

"This greater flexibility to change direction more swiftly reduces uncertainty for employees and customers and may help to prevent further job losses where the survival of the business could be at risk."