View from City Road: Initiative becomes a cold potato

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The Independent Online
The Potato Inspectorate has been warned. From now on it had jolly well better be courteous and helpful to those whose business it goes about sticking its nose into. Or else. Or else what? Or else John Major will be displeased.

We know this because the said inspectorate is one of 70-odd enforcement agencies covered by a new code of conduct published yesterday under the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative. Mr Major also held a pow-wow at Number Ten so that Lord Preston of Candover, along with a bevy of Cabinet ministers and selected businessmen, could bring him up to date on how the attack on red tape is going.

Alas, the short answer is slowly and uncertainly. Nothwithstanding the avalanche of press releases emanating yesterday from Whitehall, Mr Major's grand initiative appears to consist mainly of vague promises to consult, encourage and review here, there and everywhere, together with old or existing policies dressed up as new ways of prosecuting the offensive against needless regulation.

This is a pity. Either excessive regulation is burdening industry with billions of pounds in extra costs without benefiting the consumer or it is not, and therefore deregulating business is a diversion that can only undermine standards of consumer and environmental protection.

Shorn of the courage of its convictions, the deregulation initiative is stranded somewhere in the middle and looking increasingly like a paler imitation of that other failed Major initiative, the Citizen's Charter.

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