Life in the farce lane: We’re not the only ones

A recently released report by Tim Ambler of the London Business School and Francis Chittenden of the Manchester Business School for the British Chambers of Commerce shows how the UK experience of regulation review is pretty much as Australia’s has been – farcical.  It is a little unfair about existing efforts which – though they remind me of Woody Allen’s comment that listening to Wagner made him want to invade Poland – look like they may bear somewhat more fruit.  Even so, it’s nice that the life in the farce lane view of regulation review as currently practiced is starting to make it’s way unapologetically into the mainstream.

The BCC press release reads thus.

The key findings in this expos© of inaction are:

  • Both Conservative and Labour administrations approach deregulation with apparent enthusiasm, learn little or nothing from previous efforts and have little if anything to show from each initiative.
  • There have been 15 deregulation initiatives since 1985: the 1995, 2001 & 2006 Acts are the major ones.
  • 1994 Act identified 605 âproposals for reform❠yet produced only 26 deregulations over the next four years. On closer study, the authors explain the real number may actually be less than 10.
  • 2001 Act produced 63 deregulatory opportunities yet only 27 deregulations were introduced over the next four years. At the same time business was hit by over 600 new regulations.
  • After reviewing the history, the authors conclude that the Regulatory Reform Act 2006 is likely to produce the same results as Whitehall has already started to undermine the initiative by manipulating targets and double-counting.

A little more detail is over the fold, but you can also download the report if you wish here (pdf).

The report outlines the cycle of regulation busting I tried to outline in an op ed late last year reproduced here.

1. Government agrees that there is excessive regulation and requests examples of regulations that can go.

2 .Industry finds it hard to substantiate examples because they are inured to the regulations,it is time consuming, they doubt anything will change,it is not a single regulation that is causing difficulty but the cumulative total and many are interconnected.

3. Eventually a list is compiled.

4. The civil service welcomes the list and expresses enthusiasm.It then takes many months,behind closed doors, to consider each item. They reject those they can and express good intent and more study for most of the others. A very few regulations are promised to be axed so that the Minister in charge can claim it was all a great

5.Announcements are made or responses provided in answer to parliamentary questions about the number of
proposals implemented or rejected.However,it should be noted that the civil service regards as âimplementedâ
anything where the policy has changed,i.e. they have agreed it can be implemented. That does not mean it is
implemented, i.e.axed, in practice. Deregulation had been a policy objective of the Government since 1979,and it took on a new urgency in 1983 with renewed scrutiny of the regulatory activities of central and local government.Table 2 shows the major initiatives since 1985.

The table on pages 12-14 is particularly damning documentation of serial announcements following this pattern.

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derrida derider
derrida derider
17 years ago

Reminds me of a time when I was on a deregulatory task force on taxation. We surveyed small busimnesses to assess the burden of taxation paperwork on them. It soon became apparent that the fundamental objection they had to taxation paperwork was that it might result in them paying tax!

More seriously, though, doesn’t the successive failures of this sort of thing suggest that it is actually really hard? Isn’t it possible that reducing the compliance burden actually carries heavy costs elsewhere?

Francis X Holden
17 years ago

Having had to get bunches of independendent and employed professonals and others to fill in forms of myriad design and with the destinatinon black hole my general rule is “show me how this bit of information will be useful and /or fed back to the originator” and if not why not.

It’s not all that simple but its a start.

17 years ago

I thought the data collected by the ATO is used by the ABS in aggregated form and is probably pretty useful for trend analysis of economic trends. Certainly as someone allegly in the business of economic development I value any industry-wide data that is more or less up to date. The ABS has cut back on much of its surveying and so access to aggregated ATO data is useful in lieu.

However, my understanding of deregulation more generally is that such exercises are almost invariably exercises in being seen to do something, rather than a genuine attempt at reduction.

17 years ago

that’ll be “allegedly”, the keyboard ate a couple of my fingers…

derrida derider
derrida derider
17 years ago

Your point about compliance costs not being borne by those imposing them and therefore being oversupplies is largely correct (though political pressure does set a limit to it). It mirrors the frustration data collectors have where survey respondents are not getting the benefit from it and so have no interest in its quality.

I’ve argued half-seriously in the past that every compulsory form that goes out from officialdom should be assessed by an independent agency which sets a fee that those completing it can charge the issuing authority. IOW make the full cost appear in the govt’s budget. But I can’t see that proposal getting past the Dept of Finance, though it might make a good election promise for someone.

17 years ago

Regulatory Reform Act 2006. Heh. Let me adapt a classic exchange from Yes Minister. Here, Sir Humphrey is complaining to his cabinet colleague about the new minister:

“All we have to do is head him off this deregulatory nonsense, I remarked to Bernard. Bernard said that he thought that we were in favour of deregulation. I hope I have not over-promoted young Bernard. He still has an awful lot to learn.”

“I explained that we are calling the Act “Regulatory Reform” because you always dispose of the difficult bit in the title. It does less harm there than on the statute books.”