View from City Road: Sea of red tape around nation of shopkeepers

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The Independent Online
Napoleon would have been proud of Michael Heseltine. If Britain is indeed a nation of shopkeepers, the President of the Board of Trade might be just the man to help them fulfil their destiny.

As part of the barrage of deregulation initiatives he announced yesterday, the small business community will enjoy a veto over all future economic regulations. The regulators will have to consult 'two or three typical small firms' to ensure that any legislation they devise passes the 'small business litmus test'.

Whether it is wise to vest so much power in such narrow hands is another matter. But what it promises to do, in the longer term, is free business from a good deal of red tape that would otherwise reach the statute books.

How successful Mr Heseltine and his deregulation task forces have been in clearing a path through the jungle of existing red tape is less obvious.

Notwithstanding the fact that 3,500 suspect regulations were examined, Mr Heseltine felt confident enough to identify only 23 regulations that would definitely be repealed under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, and a further 55 that might be dispensed with under the order-making powers that the Bill would confer on ministers.

Furthermore, as Mr Heseltine himself conceded, task force recommendations to repeal the more sensitive and costly regulations - for instance, those covering the fire safety of children's nightwear - have either been rejected outright or left for further deliberation.

Allowing children under 14 to be taken into public houses and extending shopping hours may have a populist ring, but it is not clear how much grief and money they will save business.