Today EEF's Regulation Task Group publishes its major report: 'Reforming Regulation, improving competitiveness, creating jobs'. Le'ts be clear, regulation has a place in a civilized society - it helps protect employees, consumers and the environment. At its best it can allow businesses to compete without being pressured to compromise their ethics. However, where it is excessive, ill-conceived or poorly implemented, it can impose significant cost on individuals, businesses and the wider economy with little or no benefit.
Over the past two decades businesses have been promised reductions in costs imposed by regulation, only to see them rise year on year. A telephone survey of 300 EEF members found that regulation was rated as the second worst aspect of the UK business environment behind taxation. More than half of those surveyed identified regulation as an obstacle to growing their business.
The coalition government has promised to reduce regulation and set out a bold 'one-in, one-out' approach where the costs imposed by new regulation must be matched by removing existing regulation imposing similar costs. We welcome the ambition and priority given to the issue, but do have some concerns about how this will work in practice.
For example it seems that EU-derived regulation will be excluded from the one-in, one-out system. In one sense that seems reasonable - why should the UK government be held responsible for regulation it didn't want? However, a thousand pounds of cost resulting from new regulation affects a business exactly the same, wherever the regulation emanates from. And excluding EU legislation will mean that it falls off the radar; with most climate change, health and safety legislation coming from Brussels that is a huge issue. We could once again have a situation where government can claim to have made savings and cut costs when we all know that the total cost has actually gone up.
What we need is openness and transparency, with all the cards on the table, that is why the report calls for one-in, one-out to be a stepping stone to regulatory budgets where departments are set a binding limit for the regulatory costs they can impose. As appropriate, some can allow an increase, some require a decrease.
Another key issue is how the government engages with the European Commission and Parliament. This is the major driver in health, safety and environment. In recent years we have seen layer upon layer of climate and environment directives that have created a confused and ever-changing framework. There have also been some really poor pieces of health and safety legislation, for example the Optical Radiations Directive, which the Health and Safety Executive concluded would 'bring no additional health and safety benefits in Great Britain'.
The report urges government to build on work carried out earlier this year that started building a coalition of member states calling for reform of the Commission's approach to regulation. It's a slow game, but vital. Whilst the Conservatives are currently rather marginalised in Europe, the Liberal Democrats are part of the major ALDE political grouping which could be very effective in building an alliance.
The report also welcomes the role of the Regulatory Policy Committee in providing a robust challenge to regulatory proposals. It's job is to check that the policy makers have proved the case for regulation, showing that the benefits outweigh the costs and that regulation is the only way of achieving the desired outcome. Such a body needs to have teeth so its findings can't be ignored as well as being genuinely indpendent and able to speak out. Under the last government it was truly independent, but had no teeth. The coalition is certainly giving it teeth - but at the cost of independence. We're calling for that to change.
Creating a more competitive regulatory environment will be one of EEF's major campaigns over the coming year. We will be using the report as a constructive basis for advancing our arguments on a range of regulatory proposals, from simplification of UK waste regulation to negotiations on the Electromagnetic Fields Directive. As ever our health, safety and environment services are there to help EEF-members and non-members cope with regulation and protect the environment, their workforce and their profitability. Contact your local EEF office to find out more.
Altogether the report includes 10 recommendations focussed on controlling costs imposed by regulation and changing the culture amongst policy makers. Click here to read the report or the two page position paper.