Making life easier for business

As momentum grows in countries like Rwanda and Burundi to bear down on red tape and improve the business enabling environment (see “Doing Business in the East African Community 2013: smarter regulations for small and medium size enterprises”) it seems that western governments are doing less to live up to their own rhetoric of making life easier for business. Over the last 8 years, the five countries of the East African Community have implemented 74 institutional or regulatory reforms to improve the enabling environment. To be fair, they have a long way to go: Rwanda has climbed to 52 out of the 185 countries now ranked annually whilst Burundi still languishes at 159.

But recent stories in the UK and US suggest that government enthusiasm to help business is waning. In the US, the National Federation of Independent Business, fed up with what they see as a tidal wave of regulation, has launched a new campaign, “Small Business for Sensible Regulation” to fight federal regulation that might stifle job creation not least because, they argue, it is small businesses that tend to drive job creation and economic growth. They say that complying with federal regulations is the most important problem facing small business today. Thomas Sternburg, founder of Staples which now employs more than 50,000 people, says that the level of red tape now would have meant that he would struggle to start his business today – and he argues in favour of the proposed Regulatory Improvement Act of 2013.

The Economist describes efforts by a group of US technology entrepreneurs to lobby for improvement in regulation in the US – FWD.US was launched in April to campaign for immigration reform. Its proposals have already passed through the Senate and it is now focusing on the House of Representatives. The key lesson from their efforts so far seems to be recognition that change in the law has to confer a wider public benefit than simply helping their businesses recruit the talent that they need (See Economist 24 Aug 2013: Mr Geek goes to Washington).

In the UK, a recent article in the Sunday Times (See Sunday Times, 18 Aug 2013: red tape bonfire fizzles out) reports on a review by the Government’s regulatory policy committee saying that the Government is adding to the regulatory (and financial) burden much more than it ought to be. The review asserts that government’s estimates of the cost to business of new regulation too low and that estimates of the benefits of removing old and redundant regulation are too high. The result is that costs to business increase at the rate of £80m per year. The review says that the net excess cost of regulation introduced since 2011 is more than £350m.

The Government now requires Departments to publish a six monthly “statement of new regulation”. When I first saw one of these, published by BIS (see BIS fifth statement of new regulation), I was rather impressed – but I have now spotted that this only covered regulation from BIS – and that other Departments are publishing their own statements. (See for example BIS sixth statement, DCLG sixth statement and DECC sixth statement)

It would be much better – and more likely to raise hackles and thus serious opposition from trade associations and others – if all these statements were amalgamated into a single report. And it would be better still if each six monthly report said what Departments planned to do generally to cut regulation rather than solely to respond to the need to eliminate old regulations in order to introduce new ones.

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