'Guilty until proven innocent' - Government gets tough(er) on red tape

The Government launched its Red Tape Challenge yesterday. Sounds cheesy, but it could herald the beginning of a new, regulation-lite era...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
‘Red Tape Challenge’ may sound more like the title of a low-budget TV show than a serious attempt to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, but David Cameron and business secretary Vince Cable insist their new campaign is going to do just that. The pair launched the Challenge - which will allow business owners to have a say on which regulations should be kept and which should be given the heave-ho - yesterday morning. And not before time: quite apart from the fact businesses frequently list red tape as their number one headache, the idea that there’s a law so joyless that it prevents ice-cream van drivers sounding their chimes for more than four seconds every three minutes is a bit depressing, to say the least.

The idea of the campaign is that 21,000 regulations will be listed on a website, and the general public will then be able to comment on them. So that people aren’t overwhelmed, the regulations will be listed in stages - starting with rules affecting retailers, and moving on to the hospitality and food and drink industries. The rules will cover everything from employment law to company law, the environment, health & safety, equality rules and pensions – although red tape surrounding taxation will be excluded (which is sure to rankle with more than a few entrepreneurs).

At the same time, Cable is planning a crackdown at departmental level, too. Apparently, he’s writing to all Cabinet Ministers to tell them they’ve got three months to explain why individual regulations in their remit are required, otherwise they’ll be scrapped. ‘The presumption will be clear,’ he said. ‘Regulations will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent’. Fighting talk.

Businesses have given the initiative the thumbs-up, with British Retail Consortium director Tom Ironside calling it a ‘good start’. Then again, this does come mere days after a raft of new employment legislation came into force, including the scrapping of the Default Retirement Age (which angered some businesses) yesterday, and new maternity/paternity rules, which will allow fathers to take up to six months of their partner’s maternity leave. So there's plenty of brand new legislation to get to grips with there - and it may be that the exemption for micro-firms doesn't apply in either case.

Still, far be it from MT to judge a scheme before it has even had a chance to make a difference. David Cameron said he wants his to be the ‘the first Government in history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, rather than increasing it’. A noble ambition indeed. Let’s hope it can deliver.

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