According to the government, we can expect less red tape in 2007. But do we believe it?
In December the Cabinet Office announced a new initiative of 500 red-tape-busting actions leading to more than £2bn-worth of business savings.
Which of these will affect the licensed industry?
Well, there will be some changes to the Companies Act, so if you have a limited company you may be able to benefit from the estimated administrative savings of £150m.
Importers and exporters will benefit from a 'single trade window' and save £60m a year. Could this make life easier for the 'booze cruise' importers - something which might increase the burden for publicans?
The planning system is going to be simplified - particularly if you have access to a computer - and the need for planning permission may be relaxed for a number of small developments. Possibly good news for the publican who wants that rear extension or conservatory. But you may still have to negotiate the pitfalls of the Licensing Act 2003.
Ah, and now some good news for publicans! The government is to extend the 'Retail Enforcement Pilots' scheme to 70 local authorities, resulting in up to 33 per cent fewer inspections for compliant businesses. Retail Enforcement Pilots establish new ways of working between trading standards, environmental health, health and safety and fire authorities. (If anyone has any experiences of being subjected to a Retail Enforcement Pilot please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, as I would love to hear your views). If this new way of working is anything like the new ways of working introduced under the Licensing Act 2003 - inspection 'swoops' by environmental health officers, fire officers, police, trading standards officers and licensing officers - then I can see far greater burdens on the publican's business.
And finally, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will save more than £300m through making compliance easier without compromising safety. I'm sure this is an interesting conundrum for them but I've yet to experience - after 30 years of regulatory compliance work - the HSE making things simpler!
So, probably little for the licensed trade to get excited about regarding cutting red tape.
Perhaps we could get excited about actual new red tape? What can we expect in 2007?
- Smoking will be prohibited in all enclosed public places and workplaces as of July 1, 2007. Real 'red tape' will ensue as we try to hammer out the definition of 'enclosed' and understand the exemptions within the Act itself
- Employment laws will change again; increasing maternity leave, for instance
- Corporate manslaughter offences may come into force under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2006
- Construction and refurbishment projects will be subject to new regulations, with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 coming into force in April 2007 and replacing two existing sets of regulations. The new regulations are more onerous and will be more costly
- There will be numerous revisions to health and safety legislation
- There will be revisions to food safety legislation, especially in relation to food labelling and compositional requirements
- New duties will come in respect of environmental controls, for instance increased recycling requirements, climate change levies, packaging waste.
We'll cover new legislation in detail over the coming months - it will be interesting to see whether compliance is easier and therefore less costly.
There may well be some reduction of the red tape burden for many industries, but I don't see the licensed trade amongst them. We're likely to have more burdens regarding regulatory compliance. And, as Alastair Campbell asked at The Publican Conference - where is the co-ordinated lobbying voice of the industry?