The Government has published the most recent part of its well-publicised mission against “unnecessary” regulation: a report by a “Business Taskforce” appointed by the Prime Minister, entitled “Cut EU Red Tape”.
With six leading business people putting their names to the report, the Prime Minister wholeheartedly welcomed its recommendations. “This report makes clear that there are lots of simple and practical ways to cut EU red tape and save businesses across Europe tens of billions of euros” (my highlighting), he says. That is money enough to cancel bail-outs, to build roads and hospitals and schools across Europe and to bury UKIP for ever.
With this demanding title and rather immodest prediction, you might expect the report to include well-evidenced conclusions of how silly Brussels-driven bent-banana regulations are putting businesses to disproportionate expense, whilst failing to meet their intended objectives. Unfortunately, if you were expecting this, you will be disappointed (though if you have read any of the other rationales prepared by the Government over the last three years for cutting employment red tape, probably not surprised).
The Foreword to the report proudly announces that its conclusions are based on “input from hundreds of firms, individuals and business associations across Europe”. However, by the Executive Summary (a mere three pages later) the extent of the report’s sources is drastically reduced to “some 90 UK businesses and business organisations, and over 20 business organisations across Europe” (my guess is 21).
Not only is the extent of its research questionable, but the report’s eight recommendations to reduce employment regulations also appear to be no more than wish-lists from anonymous sources. Typical of this is the recommendation that small, low risk businesses should not be required to keep written health and safety risk assessments. This recommendation is based on a quotation attributed to “a small business organisation” (your local corner shop, perhaps) suggesting that “Removing the requirement to write down risk assessments could save businesses across Europe 2.7 billion euros”.
Now, you may ask: how is this figure calculated? How are businesses supposed to defend negligence claims without such written records and does this figure take into account any expected increase in compensation payments as a result? What is meant by a “small, low risk business”? Who will decide this and how much will the cost of such a decision be? And what a remarkably perceptive small business organisation it must be to know so much about prospective costs savings across the whole of Europe. Not your average corner shop, then.
Needless to say, the factual basis for the seven other employment recommendations is equally undefined and anecdotal. This is not, of course, to say that EU regulations cannot be costly, disproportionate and, yes, at times wholly failing to meet their stated objectives. However, sensible debate on the matter is hardly helped by a report whose near total lack of substance results in its being easily dismissed as nothing more than anti-regulatory ideology.
In its report, the Taskforce is preaching to the already converted from the pulpit of the High Church of Conservatism. In order to provide a more convincing position for regulatory change and not just to sound like Nigel Farage on speed, the Government needs to carry out some proper research on the impact of regulations, and not just appoint six angry business people to conclude officially to great fanfare and public expense just what they already thought.