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Byers to ease burden on firms with `sunset' regulations

THE GOVERNMENT is to limit the growing amount of red tape entangling business by introducing "sunset" regulations which automatically expire after three or five years, Stephen Byers will announce today.

In a further move to meet business complaints that the burden of regulation has increased dramatically since the election, the Secretary of Trade and Industry, speaking at the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce in Glasgow, will also say that guidance on the way the Working Time directive is implemented is to be simplified.

The idea of sunset regulations is an import from the US. Certain new rules will automatically expire after a fixed period, forcing Whitehall to review whether they should then be renewed.

On top of the introduction of new employment laws, government efforts to slash red tape have ground to a halt. It has emerged that the number of Deregulation Orders put before the House of Commons in 1997/98 was just seven, the lowest number since the 1994 Deregulation Act.

In his speech, Mr Byers will emphasise the need to leave business free to create jobs. "An essential element of this strategy must be to avoid burdening business with unnecessary regulation," he will say.

Employers have expressed increasingly vocal concerns about the sudden increase in regulation, including the working time and related EU social chapter directives, the national minimum wage and the Working Families Tax Credit.

"Each imposes its own set of administrative and record-keeping burdens," said Ian Peters, deputy director of the British Chambers of Commerce. "We are looking for action, not just words, from the Government."

As well as calling for simpler administrative procedures and exemptions from some regulations for firms with fewer than 50 staff, the BCC has called for a moratorium on any new regulations for the rest of this parliament. Businesses also want the Government to introduce a four-month gap between announcing and implementing any regulations so employers have time to work out what to do.

However, today's speech by Mr Byers will anger some trades unions, which will see the concessions to employers - especially the more flexible interpretation of the working time directive - as a backdoor attempt to water down employment rights introduced by the Government.

Outlook, above