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Issue:-18/19 November 2009

Freeze new small business laws until election to allow for review of red tape

THE Forum of Private Businesses (FPB) is calling for a freeze in new business legislation to allow the Government to re-assess the burden of red tape. The proposed moratorium would last until the General Election, which is expected to take place in May 2010.  With the Pre-Budget Report (PBR) less than a month away, the FPB is lobbying the Government to ease regulation on small businesses after finding it costs them almost £12 billion per year.

The FPB’s Policy Representative, Matt Goodman, said that a hiatus in new small business laws during the months before the election would be the perfect opportunity to launch the first ‘Comprehensive Regulatory Review’ – in the spirit of the Comprehensive Spending Review – as proposed by the FPB in its submission to the PBR.

“The Government must ensure that regulations are proportionate to their aim. We want departments to get to grips with all the various aspects of the regulatory burden on businesses and a Comprehensive Regulatory Review would provide just that sort of understanding.  In order to make the Better Regulation Executive’s hard work really count, it stands to reason that we should have a better picture of what is on the books at the moment, how those regulations interact and how they are being enforced. So not just the time and effort spent by businesses on compliance, but the time spent by government departments and local authorities as well.  By committing to a moratorium and the first Comprehensive Regulatory Review before the General Election, the Government can extend the pre-election period and use that time to make ‘joined-up government’ a reality.” said Mr Goodman.

Research carried out for the FPB’s quarterly Referendum survey found that, not only does complying with regulation costs small businesses a staggering £12 billion per year, they also devote an average of 37 hours per month on compliance.  Micro businesses (0 to 9 employees) spend an average of 33 hours per month complying with regulations, small businesses (10 to 49 employees) 48 hours per month and medium-sized companies (50 to 249 employers) 131 hours – equivalent to one full-time member of staff. 

Employment law is the costliest bureaucratic burden, costing small businesses £2.4 billion per year. Health and safety administration costs £2.1 billion and tax £1.8 billion per year, according to the FPB's research.  The average time per month spent on employment red tape (dismissals and redundancy, discipline, absence controls and management, parental leave, and holidays) is 10 hours. For health and safety, it is 8 hours. Business owners spend an average of 7 hours each month on tax administration, 4 on building and property regulations, 4 on standards, 3 on environment and waste regulations, and an hour per month on equality and diversity.

The FPB’s survey also identified a significant level of disenchantment with the current regulatory framework with just 5% of respondents believing it is beneficial to their business and only 9% believing that the current framework is fair, robust and proportionate.  While welcoming the Government’s Better Regulation agenda, the FPB is warning that more needs to be done to protect small business owners from the disproportionate effect of business laws.

FPB member Jeanie Cartmell, a partner with furniture and fixtures retailer Solihull Supplies, based in Birmingham, said she had been forced to take on an extra employee to help her deal with the burden of legislation.  The business, based on Lodge Road, Knowle, employs a total of 6 people. Mrs Cartmell agreed that smaller firms like Solihull Supplies are hit particularly hard by red tape. She told the FPB:- "It's quite ridiculous and it costs money left, right and centre.  It's really difficult to get through everything – it's just very time consuming with all the paperwork. It's so complicated and there's a lot of time spent as a small business just complying to survive.  I think common sense has gone out of the window with health and safety legislation in particular – that's an issue that takes up a lot of our time."


UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, called for meat hygiene regulations to be tightened up, and for a boost to the number of meat safety inspectors working in abattoirs. The call follows a damning report* revealing that contaminated, or dirty meat, is making its way into the human food chain**.  The union warned the meat industry not to wait for a food safety scare to hit the front pages, before taking action to stamp out meat contamination.

Simon Watson, UNISON’s National officer for Meat Hygiene Inspectors, said:- “This shocking report will alarm parents and families. The British public need to know their Sunday roast is safe to eat.  There are a number of steps the meat industry and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) need to take to stop these levels of meat contamination.  More safety inspectors will help, but the culture of bullying and intimidation in abattoirs, that prevents them from doing their jobs properly, must be stopped.  Meat safety inspectors come under huge pressure from abattoirs to keep meat production lines moving fast. If an inspector slows the line, to determine whether a carcase is fit to eat, the industry loses money. Inspectors need support to blow the whistle on health and safety violations, without fear of being victimised.  Allowing abattoirs to police themselves on aspects of meat safety has failed. We need to beef up powers for independent meat safety inspectors, so the public can be sure that animals sent for slaughter are clean and dry.  The meat industry would lose millions if they wait for a national food safety scare to hit the headlines before taking action. This report should be the wake up call the industry needs to get meat safety right.”

UNISON made the following recommendations following the report:-

1. A review of staffing levels – we need to more meat safety inspectors to make sure contaminated meat does not enter the human food chain.

2. Introduce support for front line inspectors to tackle bullying and help them raise concerns about food safety, without fear of being intimidated.

3. Transfer the responsibility of making sure animals taken for slaughter are clean and dry, covered by the Clean Livestock Policy, back under the control of official, independent inspectors.

4. Commit to the future of a strong, independent meat inspection service. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) are moving towards allowing the meat industry to police itself, with independent inspectors playing an audit role. This, UNISON believes, will severely compromise public safety and confidence in meat.

Background file:-

*The report was published by the European Commission’s Food and veterinary Office (FVO).

** Amongst the problems the FVO found:-

1. Heavily contaminated live sheep were accepted for processing, even with the FVO inspectors present. Acceptance or rejection of livestock used to be an official Meat Hygiene Service responsibility, now passed to industry to self-regulate. Once dirty live animals are accepted it’s very difficult to produce clean meat.

2. Carcasses were seen with faecal contamination in chilling rooms.

3.  Contaminated meat was also seen in a cutting plant (even on vacuum packed meat).

4. Contaminated meat was seen in a cold store receiving frozen meat for storage directly from a slaughterhouse.

5. There was cross contamination of meat in abattoirs.

6. There were examples of generally poor hygiene.

7. A third of establishments inspected were not complying with regulations.

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