MT Special: Prisk defends Government inaction on red tape

Has the Government done too little to reduce red tape? In an exclusive interview with MT, business minister Mark Prisk says it's just been biding its time...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
In the run-up to last year’s election, we heard a lot from the Conservative Party about the red tape bonfire it was planning to make life simpler for business owners. Nine months after the Election, though, and we’ve seen barely a spark: in fact, some argue that things have got worse. Just last month, a survey found that new employment legislation due to come into force over the next four years will cost businesses close to £23bn. But when MT sat down with Mark Prisk, the second-in-command at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, he told us that the reason we’ve yet to see any substantial effect is because the Government is refusing to be rushed into anything. Slow and steady wins the race, and all that...

According to Prisk, the Government has spent the last nine months steadily identifying how it can effect a change in overall departmental attitudes. He said it would have been easy to take ‘let’s say, a hundred regulations’ and scrap them outright. But that wouldn't have been a long-term fix: ‘we’d have some nice headlines on week one, but at the rate of 13 new regulations every working week, by Christmas we would have been back to where we started, and businesses wouldn’t see the benefit’. Instead, BIS is trying to change the whole set-up, he claims: ‘We’ve been working with other departments to force them to go down alternative roads to regulation first, and not just regulating as a first choice’.

So when are businesses likely to see the fruits of BIS’s labours? Prisk said there would be an announcement in April, just after the Budget. That’s taken almost a year to arrive, but Prisk insisted it’s because BIS has taken ‘a very comprehensive approach... That has meant our ability to announce things has taken longer’. (Classic politician-speak).

Any faster, says Prisk, and the Government would have risked putting businesses at a competitive disadvantage. But for some firms, will it turn out to be too late? According to a survey by the National Audit Office last month, business owners have an average of 60 regulations to comply with, and spend up to six weeks a year reading up on how to comply with them. And the Institute of Directors adds that at the moment, red tape is costing firms £36.8bn. Not a sum to be sniffed at.

It’s been a long wait, then, but Prisk said that over the next couple of months, businesses should notice a sea-change in the legislative process - beginning with an outline of the Government’s strategy on growth in the next two or three weeks, and continuing with changes to regulation in April. The question now is: will it be worth the long wait? Watch this space.  

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