Solving the EU's maze of red tape (CORRECTED)

Click to follow

FOR all the Government's apparent enthusiasm for reducing red tape, there are now so many regulations for even the smallest companies that it is perhaps surprising that so many survive and prosper, writes Roger Trapp.

Nowhere is this more problematic than in the area of European Union legislation. According to Marc Catchpole, marketing manager for mid-corporate business services at National Westminster Bank, many businesses do not realise it affects them because they trade only in Britain.

However, companies do not have to be engaged in cross-border trade to be subject to such laws as those on health and safety. 'Despite numerous campaigns by the Department of Trade and Industry, we don't seem to have got through to the British business community,' Mr Catchpole says.

NatWest's contribution has been to develop a simple and easy-to-use computer software package that enables managers to find out what EU legislation affects them.

As classical scholars will realise, the name suggests that the Pharos Business Adviser - developed by the bank with Ernst & Young, the accountants, and the Confederation of British Industry - is designed to act as a 'beacon to guide you in the right direction'.

By answering a series of questions, users are able to build up individual profiles of their businesses.

This leads the software to display only the information that is relevant. The information is available in two levels - basic and more detailed - and there are pointers about where to go for further information.

'The target audience is not the technical expert, but the MD or FD needing a quick update. It's not meant to be exhaustive,' Mr Catchpole says.

The first version was delivered in March 1992 to about 150,000 clients and customers of NatWest and Ernst & Young, and chambers of commerce. Later that year, an updated version featuring an insert on environmental issues was released. This addition was made because the environment is reckoned to be one of the most important business issues in the current decade.

The developers are also looking at moving from DOS to the Windows approach. The former was chosen because the target audience was not considered to be computer-literate two years ago.

However, a lot has changed since then, says Mr Catchpole, and it is felt to be worth sacrificing some user-friendliness for more permutations.

At pounds 95 plus VAT for clients of Ernst & Young, customers of NatWest or members of the CBI, or pounds 175 plus VAT for others, the package is good value, he insists. It has attracted 3,500 subscribers so far.