Cut back the red tape culture, Mr Brown

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The Independent Online

We have no quarrel with the broad intentions of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, in his efforts to create a better climate for an entrepreneurial culture. We welcome his tough stance against price-fixing cartels, the bane of a healthy economy. As Mr Brown pointed out in his speech at 11 Downing Street yesterday, such cartels are a sophisticated form of theft. The threat of jail sentences for such cartels is a useful and worthy deterrent; trust-busting legislation in the United States has blazed the way. We welcome, too, his emphasis on the need for greater productivity. Mr Brown's suggestion that this should be a "truly entrepreneurial culture that is not confined to the few but open to all" sounds like a meaningless soundbite. And yet, three times as many Americans say they want to start a business as Britons do; the differences, in other words, are real.

Mr Brown emphasised the Government's reduction in corporation tax, though he failed to point out that the overall tax burden on companies has increased in the past four years. The overall problem remains, however, not that taxes are too high, but that they are too complex. An entrepreneur should not have to devote all his time to fiscal small print.

The problem is not (as is sometimes suggested) too many concessions for employees. Indeed, as our Paris correspondent reports today, some French business leaders have discovered (to their surprise) that a 35-hour week can be of benefit to all. Above all, the problems lie with unnecessary bureaucracy. Some of the problems are caused by a multitude of taxes. Just as serious are the problems when employers have to act as the taxman's unpaid assistant, administering various new taxes and tax credits on the taxman's behalf; this does not come without a hidden price tag.

It is a reminder of how far and how fast the Labour Party has moved in the past decade that we no longer find it surprising when a Labour Chancellor sings the praises of "a truly entrepreneurial culture". Mr Brown has done well in bringing stability to the economy in the past four years. The fact that he was accompanied at yesterday's meeting by Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, gives us hope that the idea of joined-up government is now real. Meanwhile, as Mr Brown's continued fudge on the euro yesterday reminded us, he is still dodging the most important economic question of all. No amount of anti-cartel legislation will be of any use unless that changes.

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