The Government has promised to cut red tape for businesses, but in the last few months it has announced a mass of legislation.

Some of this legislation is good news and will bring exciting opportunities for reputable and enterprising businesses.

Legislative burden

But some proposals are less welcome, particularly so for small businesses, as they have the potential to add to the already unwieldy legislative burden.

The long awaited Enterprise Bill, published on 26 March, is being fast-tracked through the Commons as I write. It is likely to receive Royal Assent soon after you read this issue of LCN. For legislation, such speedy progress is the equivalent of the four-minute mile!

Tough powers

The Bill is in two parts. The first overhauls competition regulation in the UK, taking us ever closer to US-style anti-trust laws. For it will endow an enlarged Office of Fair Trading with tough powers and bring in criminal penalties, including two year jail sentences for directors engaging in cartels, price fixing or otherwise restricting or distorting markets.

More stringent rules for acquisitions and mergers are also included in this part of the Bill. Importantly, the second part of the bill reforms consumer law.

Tough penalties against “rogue traders” have to be welcomed, as does the new regime for the OFT to approve industry Codes of Practice. It will also be responsible for marketing these codes, so effectively directing customers to what the OFT terms “better traders”.

This is a good opportunity for drycleaners who are TSA members and sign up to the code which the association will be negotiating with Government over the next few months.

In contrast to its approval of these opportunities, the TSA has expressed concern at plans announced for yet another Employment Bill this summer. For this Bill will review statutory trade union recognition and the right of individuals facing grievance or disciplinary hearings to be accompanied by a full time trade union official whether or not the company recognises the union.

Arguing the case

The TSA continues to argue that business competitiveness is a central consideration for union recognition cases.

All this new legislation comes at a time when the Better Regulation Task Force has launched a drive to tackle red tape.

There is much talk at present of “the light touch of regulation”. Would it be too cynical to suggest that this is one spin too far and that instead employers are seen as “soft touches” for regulation and, of course, taxation?