The great freedom debate:
A New Year message from the people of Britain
The Government asked how we can all have more freedom. Citizens responded in their thousands. We reveal the red tape, rules, and regulations that many of us want swept away
Sunday 02 January 2011
The British people have a New Year's message for their government: set us free. Invited by the coalition to suggest improvements to the way we are governed, thousands drew on their experiences and expertise to tell ministers that what they most want is for a match to be put to a bonfire of all the laws, rules and regulations that restrict the freedom of individuals.
The "Your Freedom" operation, launched last summer, invited suggestions for changes that could chip away at decades of bureaucracy. When the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, unveiled the project's website, he promised that every submission would be read, and urged: "Please use this site to make yourself heard. Be demanding about your liberties; be insistent about your rights."
The public has responded on a scale even he could never have imagined, with almost 14,000 proposals, many aimed at what people regard as unnecessary regulations in every area, from taxation and waste disposal, to multiple criminal records checks and form-filling for small businesses, schools and charities. There are several objections to what many people regard as the "dictatorial" ending of FM radio. There are also deep-seated complaints over apparent abuses of state power, with restrictions on the right to protest, the apparently one-sided extradition treaty with the US, and overbearing quangos coming in for particular criticism.
Ministers have already been ordered to get to work on the best, and later this month Mr Clegg will reveal which suggestions are adjudged sufficiently viable to go ahead, as part of his Freedom Bill. Other ideas may be used in further "citizen freedom" legislation, or changes in regulations.
Last night, officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government claimed they have already incorporated some of the proposals into plans to strip out unnecessary red tape, including an ongoing review of building regulations.
The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, said: "We need a sensible new approach that makes clear laws are intended to protect people, not overwhelm them with red tape."
The majority of responses amount to thoughtful and insightful attempts to oil the wheels of government. But many contributors betray genuine anger at the way they feel the authorities restrict their freedom.
In a plea for the amalgamation of Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, "suestibbs" complained that she needed separate clearances to work as a school governor, a member of the Youth Justice Panel and with a youth club. She added: "As a boring 63-year-old woman I am not likely to start to offend and the focus should be on specific categories of people, rather than everybody who may come into contact with children. I am going to be being involved with Meals on Wheels, which will presumably entail a further CRB check, in case I am going to start offending against old people."
A self-employed, "small-scale gardener" pleaded for an end to rules that forced him to pay £150 to be registered to carry waste in his van. He said: "If I do not pay this sum and I am caught carrying any waste 'no matter how small', then I may face a fine of up to £5,000."
A series of business people highlighted red tape they claimed stifled their companies and increased costs for customers, including VAT charges on refurbishment work, rules against home-working and infection-control regulations imposed on dentists. Several more objected to rules including restrictions on demonstrations and photographers, and the criminalisation of drugs.
A flurry of calls for the abolition of control orders, which restrict the freedom of terror suspects, threatened to embarrass Mr Clegg. The issue provoked tension between hawkish Tories and the Lib Dems, who opposed them in opposition. It was reported last night that the Cabinet is set to agree a package of "mitigating measures", freeing suspects to leave their homes and use mobile phones and computers. The proposals, reported in the Sunday Times, would represent a victory for Mr Clegg .
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said more than 200 suggestions had been received from the Your Freedom website .
He added: "We have considered all suggestions and taken action where appropriate, but the vast majority would not require regulatory change.
"Many of the contributions were references to the compensation culture or a misunderstanding of regulation in this area. We expect the implementation of the findings of the Young Review [of health and safety] to address most of these issues."
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