Government moves to limit regulation of business

In early June 1999, the UK's trade and industry secretary announced new steps by his department to reduce the impact of government regulation affecting business, including revised and simplified guidance on the 1998 working time Regulations. The government's move follows sustained criticism from employers' groups about burgeoning regulation under the Labour government.

Speaking at the national conference of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) on 3 June 1999, Stephen Byers, the trade and industry secretary, devoted his speech to the issue of regulation and the Labour government's commitment to reduce the burden of regulation on business, including employment legislation. He said that "getting regulation right" was a major priority for the government, and that an essential element of this was to avoid burdening businesses - especially small businesses - with unnecessary regulation.

Mr Byers said that in the past there had been a tendency to introduce "overly detailed and prescriptive" regulations, that too often they had been introduced with inadequate consultation and notice, and with too little attention to the cumulative burden of regulation. In future, there will be "a presumption against regulation", and where regulation is necessary it will be as simple and "user-friendly" as possible and "developed with the needs of small business to the fore". He was also looking at the possibility of introducing a "sunset" clause in new regulations under which they would automatically lapse after a fixed term unless specifically renewed. Mr Byers announced that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) wants to recruit business people on secondment, especially from small businesses, to assist with its "drive to cut red tape".

The DTI is reviewing all regulations that have an impact on business (UK9903195N). Consultation about simplifying and updating the regulation of employment agencies is currently underway. Mr Byers also announced that revised and improved guidance on implementing the 1998 working time Regulations (UK9810154F) will be published shortly, clarifying issues such as the record-keeping requirements and the exemption of autonomous workers and including sample "opt-out" forms.

In recent months, a range of employers' groups, including the BCC and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), have been increasingly critical of what they see as the proliferation of regulation affecting business under the present government. According to Chris Humphries, the BCC's director-general, "in its first two years in office the government has introduced a raft of new regulatory burdens, in particular the minimum wage [UK9904196F] and the Employment Relations Bill [UK9902180F], which are having a disproportionate and adverse effect on the UK's small firms." Among other steps, the CBI and BCC have both called for a moratorium on new regulatory measures affecting business until after the next election.

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