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Supporting safety

05 April 2023

Nathan Davies provides an insight into what businesses really think about the Retained EU Law Bill.

Sensible regulations are a societal force for good and keep thousands of our citizens safe, 365 days a year. Whether they relate to health and safety, the environment, food quality or fire safety, they are put in place for a reason, often following a tragic event. 

We know, for example, that since the implementation of vital legislation like the Heath and Safety at Work etc. Act and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, we have seen workplace accidents decline by a staggering 90%. We haven’t only paved the way for safer working environments, but also ensured millions of people get home safely to their families at the end of the working day.

But, despite the clear benefits of such legislation, deregulation advocates often promote a different view. From arguing regulations limit economic growth and constrain innovation, to causing general business headaches, they are seen as burdensome and mere ‘red-tape’.

The myth of legislative ‘red-tape’

Now, however, a new YouGov poll of UK businesses, carried out on behalf of Unchecked UK, RoSPA, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the Women’s Institute, suggests these views are woefully out of touch with the views of businesses themselves.

In fact, far from ‘red tape’ being the key concern, businesses cited rising energy costs, inflation, concerns about Britain leaving the EU and labour shortages as the most important issues they are facing right now. The results show that most firms quizzed recognise that robust rules deliver a wealth of benefits to the business community. From levelling the playing field and maintaining healthy competition, to driving innovation and investment in a challenging economy, most firms are clear that well-designed regulations are part of what makes the UK a great place to do business. 

Businesses say no to weaker protections

Importantly, the poll finds overwhelming support for often maligned health and safety regulation, with little enthusiasm for weakening these protections. Four in five (79%) of UK businesses say they are not willing to accept lower health and safety standards for their employees and customers, with just seven per cent saying they would be willing to accept a lowering of these standards.

Meanwhile, businesses strongly support environmental regulation, and most want to see current levels maintained or increased. Seven in ten businesses (72%) think that the government regulates businesses’ environmental practices ‘too little’ or the ‘right amount’. This provides interesting context to Government plans to deregulate the UK economy, primarily via the Retained EU Law Bill, currently passing through the House of Lords. The Bill, which proposes to review and remove all EU-derived secondary legislation by the end of this year, has been met with fierce opposition from UK civil society, as well and from Peers and MPs from across the political spectrum.

We know that the British public – while perhaps not familiar with the intricacies of the Bill – strongly support public protections, and would like to see them strengthened. Now, we have evidence to show that the UK business community – in whose name deregulatory policies are often carried out – do not support the Bill either.

Businesses show little confidence in Government’s plans

While Government argue that the Retained EU Law Bill will make businesses lives easier, and considers it a flagship policy, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Over half of businesses (64 per cent) feel the Bill will limit economic growth, with 69 per cent thinking it will create further business uncertainty. And 63 per cent think these plans will restrict their access to trade markets. 

Looking forward – blanket deregulation or a full consultative process?

Deregulation has long been the mantra of successive UK governments. While our regulatory system is by no means perfect, attempts to ‘rectify’ it have tended to be driven by an unquestioning political commitment to the deregulation ‘idea’, rather than a balanced consideration of the many benefits that strong rules can deliver for the country. It is time we adopted a more balanced, and accurate, view.

At the very least, the government should take heed that its current approach to blanket deregulation is out-of-step with the views of British businesses. It should take these voices into account, call off the assault on vital public protections, and focus instead on how to ensure the UK remains a world-leader on standards. If not, it may well find itself without the support it needs to lead the country into the next General Election.

Nathan Davies Davies is head of policy at RoSPA. For more information, visit www.rospa.com