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The Great Red Tape Lie and Polly Toynbee

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 10 September 2012

I have a bit of a sense of déjà vu as I read that new Tory Minister Michael Fallon is wants to scrap 3,000 bits of red tape to “help businesses grow”. I am sure that the man means well but does he really believe it? The problem is that I have heard it so many times before.

Michael Heseltine famously promised a bonfire to red tape to “help businesses grow.” No business minister actually promises more red tape. But with the Evil Empire passing daft new regulations every day and Westminster continuing to pass new diktats while local authorities are always keen to empire build this is just a losing battle. And so are my big predictions on the Fallon pledge.

1. There will be more legislation affecting British businesses at the end of this Parliament than there is now.

2. Really controversial laws which really do screw business, especially small businesses, notably employment laws will not be changed in any meaningful sense. The Government has said that it is looking at this but its new plan still forces firms to pony up to get rid of useless staff.

3. Polly Toynbee and The Guardian will say that Fallon’s wicked Tory plans will allow profiteering businesses to scrimp on Health & safety so threatening the lives of workers and customers in the ruthless pursuit of profit.

I would love to be proved wrong but having heard the same sort of promises for my entire adult life can you blame me for being just a little sceptical?

The really interesting point here is how little Fallon can do to stem the tide of new Euro legislation which could easily over-rule his own efforts. How much of our legislation comes from the EU?

“50 per cent of all our economic laws come from Europe.” Bill Cash MP (Conservative), House of Commons, 24 October 2011.

“EU legislation…accounts for around half of all new regulation.” Chuka Umunna MP, Labour Party press release, 25 October 2011.

“Only 7 per cent of primary legislation comes from the EU.” Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, 24 October 2011.

Well who do you believe? Naturally Polly Toynbee does not offer up the correct answer. She uses a short time period (which assists her claim) and counts only Primary Legislation. Most EU rules that affect us are either secondary or – by far and away most commonly – merely regulations. These do not need Westminster approval but just become law because the EU says so.

A House of Commons select committee and the OECD agree that the true figure is 40-50%. As such my prediction that the amount of red tape imposed on British business will increase steadily looks like a slam dunk. And I would bet a few hundred Albanian Lekke that the EU may even over-turn Fallon’s suggested reforms, timid though they are.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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