There’s a stimulus politicians could give our troubled economy for free reducing the impact of new and existing regulation. But it’s not being delivered.
In Westminster the coalition talks a business-friendly game while continuing to visit new burdens upon us the supermarket adjudicator, tobacco display ban, new rights for parents and agency workers. The much-vaunted Red Tape Challenge doesn’t make up for them.
And Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are legislating away too. Devolution is a good thing. Decisions best taken at that level should be. But all the UK governments must work together to find common solutions to common problems. The steady emergence of four administrations each with different laws is more costly for UK-wide retailers that have to comply, with inevitable consequences for customers.
Look at the latest developments. The Scottish government last week confirmed retailers will have to administer minimum alcohol pricing there, even though there’s no evidence it’s the solution to binge drinking. It’s also reviewing the role of FSA Scotland (p8). Who could benefit from different meat inspection rules or nutritional guidelines north of the border? In two weeks, shops in Wales will have to charge for most bags (though the exemptions have produced bizarre anomalies bags can be free for unwrapped food but not if something else is in the bag!)
And retailers could face a levy on larger stores in Northern Ireland if the Executive pursues plans similar to those already defeated by the BRC in Scotland. It’s also looking into bag charges and its own minimum pricing regime.
Regulation-happy politicians need to recognise that consistency allows the economies of scale that produce customer savings, investment and new jobs. So my message to them is, to quote the late Ronald Reagan: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”
Stephen Robertson is director general of the British Retail Consortium.