The PM's Big Idea is tangled in red tape talks

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The Independent Online
DEREGULATION, the Prime Minister's next Big Idea after the Citizen's Charter, has run into trouble with the very industrialists it hopes to woo.

Businessmen appointed to the seven task forces set up by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, fear that their involvement may have been a waste of time.

Several said last week they would consider resigning if a Cabinet seminar at Downing Street on Tuesday does not produce wholesale reform of enforcement and supervisory powers.

Consumer and health and safety organisations, with children's, educational and disabled charities, fear that a 'rush to deregulation' threatens hard-won gains.

These attacks do not bode well for the Prime Minister, John Major, and his attempt to seize the public imagination.

The industrialists say privately that the Government wants a high-profile Bill which will win publicity by scrapping minor rules, but not tackle the big issues.

'If the Government is simply trying to get a list of 1,000 things to wipe off the statute book and 99.9 per cent of them are obsolete or irrelevant then it makes no difference to industry,' said a member of the construction industry task force.

'Most people aren't asking for regulations to be scrapped, they are asking for them to be better administered,' he said. 'They want the whole question of unfettered discretionary powers to be tackled.'

When the deregulation initiative was launched in February the Government vowed to free the private sector from unnecessary burdens. But the task forces' part- time members - from industries such as pharmaceuticals and chemicals, engineering and financial services - have only six Department of Trade and Industry civil servants and a few private sector professionals to help them.

The construction industry group will recommend on Tuesday that building regulations covering materials, structures, fire and the health and safety of site workers should all be administered by one authority. But this would require new legislation and provides scope for Whitehall in- fighting and conflict between central and local government.

To many outside industry, however, the Government is already being too radical. Among the critics are:

Disabled groups, which fear that regulations which force the construction industry to provide access to people in wheelchairs could be scrapped

The Child Accident Prevention Trust, which fears that safety regulations such as those controlling the flammability of children's night clothes could be jeopardised

Education pressure groups which fear that John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, wants to remove safeguards against child abuse in small, independent schools

Rachel Hodgkin, a policy officer for the National Children's Bureau, said: 'It is right to free adults from red tape but not at the cost of putting children at risk.'