Food and drinks industry to be freed from expensive tangle of red tape

Bureaucracy
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Plans to allow restaurants to stay open later are among measures announced as part of the Government's drive against red tape. More than 20 reform orders are proposed under a new regulatory reform Bill which aims to cut through bureaucracy and reduce the burdens on business.

Plans to allow restaurants to stay open later are among measures announced as part of the Government's drive against red tape. More than 20 reform orders are proposed under a new regulatory reform Bill which aims to cut through bureaucracy and reduce the burdens on business.

The measures include simplifying rules on fire safety and on weights and measures, as well as the abolition of rules that limit professionals and others from forming partnerships of more than 20 people.

A public appeal is being launched to suggest further measures to reduce the burden on business. A special page has been set up on the website of the Cabinet Office Regulatory Impact Unit for anyone to post ideas for reform.

The most popular measures included in the Queen's Speech are those which deal with licensing hours, among the most restrictive in Europe. Rules limiting late opening to restaurants that offer live entertainment would be relaxed.

But the measures regarding pubs affect only New Year's Eve opening and will come into effect next year. A wider review of pub licensing hours is still being done.

Kate Barker, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry said yesterday: "We welcome it with the caution you'd expect, given that we've not seen any detail. We recognise that real progress in this area is very difficult, particularly when there is constant pressure on health and safety as well as consumer protection grounds to add to regulation."

But the measures, while sensible in themselves, are unlikely to deflect Opposition criticism that the Government has massively added to the burdens bearing down on business.

Earlier this year, the Government published a White Paper recommending extension of licensing hours, in return for tougher measures to control the rowdyism associated with late-night opening.

A further announcement dealing with the wider issues is expected before Christmas. Rob Hayward, chief executive of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said: "We welcome legislation to change licensing laws in general but we hope that there will be a wider reform of licensinglaws immediately after the next election."

Although pubs were generally allowed to stay open until 2.30am for the Millennium, the trade has been pressing the Government to tackle the particular problems which have arisen this year as a result of New Year's Eve falling on a Sunday.

Pubs are allowed to open from 11 am to 11pm Monday to Saturday and from 12pm to 10.30pm on Sundays. Restaurants are allowed to stay open to midnight every day except Sundays when they have to close at 11.30pm.

Extensions for restaurants are allowed only where they provide live entertainment. For pubs, applying for extensions is a complex procedure involving several different layers of bureaucracy.

Last week, Fuller, Smith & Turner, the west London brewer said red tape introduced under this government, including the minimum wage and the EU working time directive, was costing them £500,000 a year. Pub companies say they have had to copewith 70 new pieces of legislation in the past year.

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