Burdensome red tape and heavy regulation. Nearly every government – and every opposition pledges to tackle the problem. Very often a “bonfire” of some description is promised. But the reality often turns out to be very different. Sometimes a little light smouldering of regulation is achieved, but more typically, the mountain of rules, statutory instruments and compliance orders continues to grow.
The coalition government has been seeking to take some steps to deal with this problem. Its initial approach of “one in, one out” – whereby a new regulation would only usually be adopted if a previous regulation of equal impact was struck off – may have had some impact on at least stemming the tide, but it hasn’t achieved much more.
The problem, of course, is that a commitment to reducing regulation in broad, general terms is often out-trumped by special pleading for a new rule to deal with a particular problem, whether actual or perceived. So, even if a general assumption against further regulating is adopted, the number of exceptions soon dwarfs the rule. Ministers, civil servants and advisers will plead that whilst regulation in general may be undesirable, just a little bit more of it in the specific area they are focusing on is just what is required.