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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
The Scottish Government is consulting over proposals to include in a Better Regulation Bill. The basic premise is that "Better regulation is crucial to delivering sustainable economic growth and providing a favourable business environment in which companies can grow and flourish."
A proposition for which there is little evidence. In fact, even tucked away in the paper is the admission, "At this stage we have been unable to quantify costs and benefits in any proper way." This is not unusual, as one European study of better regulation initiatives concluded, "Relatively few of the initiatives included an assessment of the intended benefits regarding environmental outcomes, or cost savings to business and regulatory bodies."
Of course nobody supports unnecessarily complicated legislation. Where such problems exist they should be dealt with. However, complaints of red tape are rarely about the detail of specific legislation, instead they are a whinge about regulation in general. This is because some employers' organisations promote the myth of a 'red tape' crisis to try to dissuade governments from defining minimum standards for workers; consumer rights and safety; protection for the environment and safety. It's just a campaign for weaker laws. The UK version of this approach is specifically being used as an excuse to weaken employment rights and undermine health and safety.
The OECD has developed measures of the administrative burdens on business and whether regulation is more or less strict. The UK ranks lower than virtually any other OECD economy on all the indicators. UK government research also suggests that the methodology used for employer organisations surveys is flawed; in they are most likely to be answered by a group of small business employers who are over-pessimistic about regulation. For most businesses it simply isn't an issue.
These proposals are more than just an unnecessary sop to certain business interests. They have particular relevance to local authorities and NDPBs who carry out regulatory functions like environmental health and planning. The Scottish Government is proposing to take major powers of direction that could further undermine local democracy.
The core proposal is for new powers enabling duties to be placed on local authorities and other regulators to implement national regulation systems and policies except where a local authority makes a compelling case that local circumstances merit a variation. Effectively turning local authorities into the administrative arm of central government. UNISON has on occasion been critical of local authorities for reinventing the wheel, when some strong guidance from CoSLA would have ensured greater consistency, without undermining genuine local responses. However, the solution to that difficulty is better coordination and best practice guidelines, rather than imposition from government.
New powers are also proposed in planning, even though the system was radically reformed in 2009. It is proposed to link the level of planning fee payable to an assessment of performance. This performance management approach is normal for quangos, but is a major interference in the role of councils. Such scrutiny is the role of democratically elected councillors.
The consultation also returns to proposals that have previously been questioned like review measures and sunsetting to ensure regulation is kept up to date, is effective and removes that which is no longer needed. It is highly questionable if these approaches are anything other than a gimmick. Particularly the 'one in, one out' approach.
All the evidence shows that businesses succeed because they have a good product or service to sell, which is delivered in a well-organised way. Such employers care little for regulation. In contrast, deregulation favours 'cowboy' employers who want to race each other to the bottom of the hill. This proposed Bill is therefore chasing the wrong target. But even more importantly, it is a further move towards centralising power away from democratically elected local authorities.