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Cutting regulation costs millions

Tom Wall30/05/2012 - 13:00

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Government wants to cut red tape
Government wants to cut red tape

The government is spending more than £10m annually on efforts to ‘ease the regulatory burden on business’ according to figures released to EHN under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Better Regulation Executive (BRE), which develops policies to ‘reduce regulation’, costs £3.9m a year to run and employs 44 civil servants. The Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), which operates the primary authority scheme and advises councils, costs £3.5m a year to run and employs 27 civil servants. Better Regulation Units (BRUs), which are based in each Whitehall department, cost the public purse an estimated £2.2m every year.

The Regulatory Policy Committee, which this year delayed powers needed to police street food vendors during the Olympics, costs £864,000 annually. This comes under the BRE’s budget.

The Red Tape Challenge website, which allows the businesses to identify regulations they want scrapped, has 13 civil servants working on it and is expected to cost £796,288 to run this year. The Cabinet Office paid a web developer £25,008 to maintain the site and outsourced the moderation of the comments at the cost £37,328.

There are also 24 civil servants including finance directors and policy heads who are ‘board level champions’ who push the better regulation agenda in their departments. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) claims it would be too expensive to calculate the cost of their work.

So far over 750 regulations have been scrapped or amended.

Ministers announced this week that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority would be stripped of its responsibility for regulating forestry firms, specialist cleaning firms and land agents as part of the Red Tape Challenge.

The total annual cost of the BRE, BRDO, BRU and the Red Tape Challenge is £10.2m. This is equivalent to paying the average salary of around 300 EHOs.

Overall, 108 civil servants work on reducing regulation for businesses. This compares to six civil servants who work on the private rented sector.

Stephen Battersby, immediate past president of the CIEH, told EHN in his personal opinion the money would be better spent cracking down on firms that put the public at risk.

‘Money would be better spend ensuring that rogue traders are dealt with properly rather than cutting red tape, which is not what stifles business anyway,’ he said. ‘”Better regulation” actually means deregulation - not more effective regulation and enforcement. It is doublespeak.’

Ministers, he added, were wrong to insist that the UK was over-regulated.

‘There is no evidence of over-regulation, indeed it was deregulation of banking that led to the irresponsible lending that led to the crash,’ he said.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, told EHN that the government was wasting precious money and resources on ‘an ideological whim’.

‘With 20,000 people across the UK dying prematurely as a result of work-related accidents and illnesses, cutting back on vital safety regulation is the last thing they should be doing,’ he said.

A spokesperson for BIS said it was inaccurate to suggest the government spends £10.2m on reducing regulation.

‘Civil servants work on a number of issues at the same time and budgets are used for a variety of purposes, so simply looking at running costs will not give a true representation.

‘However, through its work on reducing regulation, the third statement of new regulation showed that the government has achieved a cumulative net reduction of regulation to business since January 2011 of around £3.3bn. That is regulation that businesses will not need to deal with any longer and means they can focus on running their company.

‘Additionally, through the Red Tape Challenge process the government has committed to scrap or improve well over 50 per cent of the 1500 regulations (across eight themes) where ministers have already made decisions.

‘Reducing the burden of regulation on business is essential to economic growth. Good regulation plays a vital role in protecting business, consumers, employees and the environment, but unnecessary, overcomplicated regulation strangles business and prevents the growth the economy needs.’ 

The coalition agreement promises action on red tape. It has introduced a ‘one-in one-out’ rule, which means new regulations of businesses can only be enacted if existing regulations are removed. New regulations also require a ‘sunset clause’, which means they expire automatically unless renewed.

Prime minister David Cameron has pledged to ‘kill off Britain’s health and safety culture’ and the chancellor George Osborne has railed against the ‘ridiculous cost’ of environmental regulation.

MPs warned this week that the Treasury seems to think vital environmental protections are a block on economic development.

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