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Businesses are being weighed down by burden of legislation

We don't need not regulation just better quality, argues Rudi Klein

According to the legal publisher Sweet & Maxwell, Tony Blair’s Government introduced 2,685 new laws for each of his 10 years in office - a 22 per cent increase on the annual average for the previous decade.

Let me regale you with some more frightening statistics. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform estimates that businesses spend a minimum of £1.4 billion annually on advice about how to comply with regulations.

In other words, this amount is funding a vast army of consultants, advising firms on everything from health and safety to employment legislation.

According to Achieving Building Standards (published by the Department for Communities and Local Government) complying with the information requirements of UK regulations costs industry between £20 billion and £40 billion annually.

Watchdog the National Audit Office admits the majority of businesses in the UK are not confident that Government will reduce the regulatory burden.

Such burden stifles enterprise and it reduces productivity and competitiveness as resources are diverted to those activities required to ensure compliance with regulations.

But the argument is not necessarily about having no regulation; it is often more about having better quality regulation.

Take the recently revised Construction, Design and Management Regulations. They provide a necessary framework for managing health and safety risk on construction projects.

The original 1994 regulations were not well-drafted. There was no clear definition of responsibilities with the result that everybody felt that they could simply move responsibilities and risks around through masses of paperwork.

The revised regulations deal with this by identifying the duty holders and their responsibilities. They also attack the unnecessary paperwork.

Need for co-operation

At their heart is the requirement for co-operation and co-ordination. Under the old regs this frequently was not achieved. The key parties were appointed at different times.

The Approved Code of Practice urges clients to make early appointments of the key players in order that there is in place effective co-ordination and co-operation as early as possible.

If the CDM regulations actually operate as intended, this will be an example of necessary and good regulation.

Gordon Brown’s Government has committed to a reduction of the regulatory burden. It has a target of a 25 per cent cut by 2010 in the administrative burden of compliance with regulation.

The EU has a programme for simplifying EU legislation. Legislation affecting construction is one of its priorities.

The accusation against the British Government is that it often ‘gold plates’ EU legislation when translating it into UK regulation. In other words, it goes beyond what is required by the relevant EU directive.

The commitment to reduce the regulatory burden is there but will there be follow-through? Will we see 2,685 new laws or more next year?

At the moment I cannot say I am optimistic that the picture will dramatically change.

Rudi Klein is visiting professor of construction law at the Universities of Northumbria and Wolverhampton and chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group