One of the promises of Conservatives in Opposition was to remove needless or burdensome regulations, to allow more people to set up and grow businesses.Such general promises are always popular, and many in business feel they do have to spend too much time and money on compliance with regulations which do not help them be safer, better or more honest.
I drew up a set of policies before the 2001 election as Shadow DTI Secretary. I did it again for Michael Howard as his Shadow Deregulation Secretary, a post created to stress the importance of the task by giving it a seperate voice around the table. I did it again for David Cameron as part of the Economic Policy Review. Indeed, that single chapter swamped much else in the report, as the media thought it more interesting than the advice on general economic policy, transport, education and training, energy or pensions.
Alan Duncan undertook another review as Shadow DTI Secretary in the last Parliament. He concluded with a number of proposals to set up procedures in government to cut down the burden.
The Coalition government said it too was committed to deregulation. It announced a Freedom Bill, which some of us thought would include deregulatory proposals to help the economy as well as measures to restore lost civil liberties. I sent the proposals from the Economic Policy Review to the Deputy Prime Minister, but have since learnt that his Bill is being transposed into a Home Office civil liberties Bill only. Meanwhile Nick Hurd is busily consulting on what could be done by way of deregulation. This week David Young has been asked to review the topic again from the perspective of small business.
You can overstudy a topic. If all are agreed that we have too many rules and regulations, if all accept that many of these rules do not deliver what they promise or even do the opposite, the task ahead is to repeal and amend to cut the burden and improve the effectiveness where regulation is needed.
In the Economic Policy Review we presented 33 specific areas and measures where we thought repeal and amendment could cut costs and improve effectiveness where needed. The working party which studied the issue in more detail made 65 specific proposals for repeal, amendment and improved process.
Doubtless the government will have good reason not to adopt all these. However, the work was done and the list is long. It contains enough ideas that should be acceptable to a government keen on enterprise to make up its first Deregulation Bill. The sooner it does so, the better. If it wants a strong private sector led recovery it needs to make it easier for business as soon as possible. As we said at the time of the launch, deregulatory cost reductions are as good as a tax cut for business, without losing the state revenue. They may even cut the state’s costs as well.
The good news is that those proposals which required action from the Local Government Department have been pursued with alacrity. We argued for the removal of the Best Value regime, the Comprehensive Performance Assessments, regional targets and planning, and Home Information packs. They are doing this.
Ministers should not spend more time consulting business about the general question of what should we deregulate. Exisiting businesses can handle existing regulations and often see them as allies to keep others out of a market. They should move straight to proposals, and consult on those concerning the implementation.