One has to congratulate the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) – oddly enough bearing the same initials as the Russian security services which replaced the KGB – for its speed of response in alerting its members to government consultation exercises.
Popping through my letterbox this week was the September/October edition of North East England Voice of Business, announcing that "Members of the FSB in this region have been invited by HM Treasury to submit their views on how the inspection and enforcement of regulations affect their business". This is the so-called Hampton Review on Regulatory Inspection and Enforcement.
For the FSB, its announcement is entirely unexceptional, you might think, but for the singular point that the review was announced by Gordon Brown in his Budget speech. Furthermore, the initial consultation letters went out on 23 June of this year and the deadline for submissions is 15 September – less than two weeks hence. Nice one FSB.
But the substantive issue – which brings this review to the attention of this Blog - is that once again we have another of these cod reviews which completely ignores the elephant in the room. As businesses groan under the burden of mostly EU regulation – and the costs imposes by it – the government does not address the real problem of too much regulation, but skirts round the edges, looking at inspection and enforcement.
Another problem, as we saw earlier with Stephen O'Brien's attempt to pass off the problems of EU regulation as “gold plating”, is that the Conservative opposition is not tackling the issue. It too is also carrying out its own cod review, the so-called James Committee on Taxpayer Value, offering spurious savings from reduced regulation and bureaucracy, without in any way attempting to explain that what it proposes cannot be done without dealing with EU regulation – something which it has not confronted.
And yesterday, equally unrealistic proposals came from the Lib-Dims in their much-heralded "Orange Book", none of which address the source of the problem.
Thus we have this strange, unreal world where the politicians are circling around the edges of a massive problem, none of them with the courage or integrity to get stuck in and deal with it. And as for the FSB, essentially "captured" by a clique of left-leaning officers and committee members, it applauds the latest government initiative, having left it almost too late for its members to contribute even to this modest activity.
What price a robust debate on the EU constitution, when the main players are too afraid to confront the central issues?