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Get rid of the source

Posted by Richard Thursday, October 21, 2004

Red tape is costing UK businesses £100bn a year, according to David Arculus.

And who is David Arculus when he is at home? Ah… glad you asked. He is chairman of the mobile phone company O2, and now head of the Better Regulation Task Force. So here we go again. Tony Blair sees a problem so what does he do? He set up another bloody task farce – woops, sorry, force - chaired by the head of a huge corporation who knows exactly what burdens small businesses face, doesn’t he?.

Now, years later, Mr Arculus and his team, having laboured long and hard, have come up with the cost of regulation, but have they actually recommended getting rid of any? Silly billy! Of course not.

Retailing this story, The Daily Telegraph also cites Mr Arculus saying that £25 billion of that sum was spent enforcing rules, which is one of the reasons why regulations are so difficult to cut. The "mad officials" are doing quite nicely out of the regulatory business and they are going to make quite sure that their earnings are protected.

Nevertheless, city editor Neil Collins then asks: "Can anyone find a cure for this cancer of red tape?", noting that Mr Arculus's force has been at its thankless task for years. Perhaps a Fewer Regulations Task Force would be better, he writes.

But Mr Arculus does at least point out the source of much of the problem – "the flood of directives and guidelines from the Government and from Europe" – as if we didn’t know that. And he does offer some remedies: "An EU directive that businesses should trade fairly should replace all the regulations on butchers and bakers and so on," he says.

That is – as we pointed out in an earlier Blog - effectively, the same line taken by Lord Robens in 1972, just before we joined the then EEC and waved goodbye to any lasting chance of better regulation. The chances of the EU going for anything so straightforward as simple rules imposing general duties are exactly nil.

Thus, while Neil Collins might jokingly suggest that we get rid of Mr Arculus’s task force, he would do us a greater service if he suggested that we got rid of the real source of our problem.