Blair pledges to slash red tape by quarter by 2010

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The Independent Online

Slashing red tape across Government will save businesses and charities £2bn a year by the end of the decade, Tony Blair pledged yesterday.

The Prime Minister launched a cross-Whitehall drive to cut administrative burdens by a quarter by 2010 as ministers admitted that Government regulation cost business and charities £13.7bn a year.

"Simplification plans" drawn up by 19 Government departments and agencies include more than 520 measures to cut red tape. They include plans to slim down company law, streamline employment regulations and slim down rules on risk management.

The proposals also include a simplification of planning applications, reforms of the way traders deal with import and export regulations and changes to rules governing sick pay.

Business leaders gave a cautious welcome to the plans but warned that ministers had to deliver on their pledges to cut red tape. Unions reacted cautiously, urging ministers not to reduce protection for workers.

Mr Blair said: "The UK is one of the best places to do business and we need to keep it that way. The exercise to produce these simplification plans has been extensive and far reaching. It demonstrates the commitment across government and the regulators to reduce the admin burden of regulation to the benefit of business, our public services and the voluntary sector.

"These are thorough and detailed action plans that will deliver year-on-year reductions in the administrative burden of regulation."

Cabinet Office minister Pat McFadden, unveiling the plans with Mr Blair, said changes to the law introduced in November's Companies Act will save industry almost £150m. Changes to urban planning rules will save another £124m a year. The Government also plans to cut health and safety inspections on retailers by a third from 2007.

Miles Templeman, the director-general of the Institute of Directors, welcomed the plans but warned: "What business really now wants to see is a change of culture on regulation."

He said: "There seems to be a real poverty of ambition; some departments are basing potential savings on as little as one-third take-up of the new measures by business. The IoD is also concerned that some of these projects are not set to deliver until 2009/10 and will be working closely with government departments to ensure that the programme is delivered with greater urgency."

David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: "The target of a 25 per cent reduction in the administrative costs of regulation is an ambitious one that we support and will be watching closely to check on its implementation.

"To deliver this, however, there will need to be a complete sea change in attitude within Whitehall."

The Conservatives attacked the Government, claiming that Gordon Brown had "swamped" the public sector with targets.

Oliver Heald, the shadow constitutional affairs secretary, said: "The key test for the Government's simplification plans will be whether the action points are further reviews and consultation or real action to cut bureaucracy.

"Hard-pressed businesses will also want to see a list of regulations which are going to be scrapped. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating."

Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman, said: "After nine and a half years in office, it is rather late for the Prime Minister to don the mantle of deregulation.

"British businesses will have their cynicism about the present Government confirmed when they see this last-minute repentance to secure a less tarnished legacy."