Political Promise

Removing the burden to business?

In David Brownsey-Joyce on April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Last week the Government launched its two year initiative on bureaucracy in the hopes of removing red tape and freeing up business to grow the UK out of its current situation. David Brownsey-Joyce looks at the Red Tape Challenge.

The Government aims to be the first in the UK’s history of leaving office have removed more levels of bureaucracy than were introduced when they entered office. Their two year open consultation will ask for comments on bureaucratic regulations on a number of topics, ministers will take these comments and then have three months to come up with ways to justify the regulations, or they might just go out for coffee tick a box next to the phrase ‘ditch it’ and come back after three months to say it can go.

The reason I say this is that Business Secretary, Vince Cable, came out and actually said that they would presume that “you are right; we will assume that the regulations should go”. So it’s officially open season on the 21,000 regulations that govern our everyday lives; with the exception of tax, security and those rules made by the EU these are now protected species and should only be hunted by an official minister.

To open up hunting season there is a nice new website, www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk, catchy don’t you think. On this website a number of regulations will be discussed through a through timetabled topics, in other words you’ve only got around a four week window to have your say on specific topics; saying that you can always send in your thoughts directly and even if the ministers have already axed the regulation you cite I’m sure they will say to themselves, “hah another person agrees/disagrees with my decision, excellent.”

Here’s a timetable of the topics that are going to be discussed during 2011 and their start dates:

  • Hospitality, food and drink – 6th May
  • Road transportation – 20th May
  • Fisheries, marine enterprises and internal waterways – 2nd June
  • Healthy living and social care – 23rd June
  • Media and creative services – 7th July
  • Utilities and energy – 21st July
  • Rail and merchant shipping – 4th August
  • Mining and quarrying – 18th August

So roughly a new topic opening up every two weeks, for a four week discussion and then a three month wait for a rebuttal, sorry I meant reply. It was starting to sound a bit like a debate there, but the problem is that this is not a debate this is people and pressure groups sending in comments and then ministers cherry picking those that serve their points of view best and justifying the course of action they have already decided upon.

Regulation is a necessary thing, we don’t have to like it but it protects us, it protects business, we might not always agree on it but three months to decide on a highly detailed legal piece of legislation could be awfully risky. Will ministers be taking outside legal council? Will they be considering the long-term affects that revoking pieces of legislation will have on a workforce, on competition, on transparency? Time will tell on this.

It will also largely depend on who takes part in the discussion; will the Government being actively promoting this initiative, no they will not, it had a launch a photo opportunity a number of editorials and then it just died. Small businesses do not know about it because they are too busy running their businesses and that’s where legislation is the biggest obstacle in businesses, on the small scale where there may only be three employees and an employer needs to worry about a whole raft of legislation because that’s what is legally required of them.

Instead we will see pressure groups and occasionally individuals but not small business being the backbone of this initiative. We could see a top down approach to deregulation of business based upon models that only work in larger businesses.

I hope I’m wrong, but there is are two things that keep nagging at me, a presumption that regulation should go and that there will be no transparency as to how ministers will come by their decisions on whether to keep regulation.

It’s funny really because in the same week the initiative was announced tanning salon businesses were informed that they would face fines of up to £20,000 if they allowed under 18 year olds to use their facilities, under the Sunbed (Regulation) Act of 2010, however there will be no legal requirement to ask for proof of age or to keep a record of people who use these facilities. Whilst the medical reasons behind this are vital to young peoples’ long-term health, there is no way I can see to enforce what effectively is a pointless regulation if you aren’t required to check ID or keep records, maybe we’ll see dawn raids of tanning salons by police but I doubt it.

Literally the same week and they can’t stop a half arsed piece of legislation that has its heart in the right place but doesn’t actually do anything. That sums up how I feel about this whole exercise.

Click here to visit the www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk and take part in the debate on bureaucracy.

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