In a bid to help small businesses get some traction in a tough economic environment, the government will today announce plans to scrap more than 3,000 individual regulations affecting shops, offices and pubs. Exactly which regulations will be revealed later today, but the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has confirmed that only the highest-risk or worst offending companies will have to face ‘burdensome’ health and safety inspections in future.
The changes are ostensibly aimed at tackling the ‘compensation culture’ that accompanied the introduction of ‘elf and safety rules, and should make life easier for small businesses. The government has been accused of offering little in the way of real benefit with some of its recent ‘growth-boosting’ schemes, so the onus is on Cable to prove that this relaxation of the rules will actually make a difference.
Interestingly, the government plans to change the law so that companies will only be held liable for civil damages claims if it is proven that they acted negligently. Currently, firms are held automatically responsible. Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors said of the plans: ‘Today’s announcements are good news if they are the beginning, not the end of the deregulation story. Removing the headache of health and safety inspections for low-risk business is a step change.’ Thumbs up there, then.
Business secretary Vince Cable is drawing some decent political capital from the plans, and today said in a statement: ‘I’ve listened to those concerns [about red tape] and we’re determined to put common sense back into areas like health and safety, which will reduce costs and fear of burdensome inspections.’ Thanks be to Cable.
The political message neatly sidesteps an important issue, however. A significant portion of workplace rules comes from EU legislation, which the UK cannot duck out of. This means that where rules are abolished from the UK’s statute book, there could easily be circumstances that still warrant a hearing before European courts. Employers will inevitably need to tread carefully even after the ‘deregulation story’ is underway. History suggests, too, that such bonfires are easy to announce but very hard to do - red tape being notoriously non-flammable.
Still, let’s hope that the initiative gives employers a bit more freedom to grow, especially when that upturn finally comes. We’ll keep you updated with more details after Cable makes his announcement…