Advisory body calls for clarity to curb risk of regulatory creep

The way new laws are interpreted by government regulators and industry bodies is leading to ‘regulatory creep’ and additional layers of red tape, a leading advisory body claims.
A report from the Better Regulation Task Force is calling for more clarity and consistency in how laws are implemented and upheld. It also wants better communication to businesses on what legislation will mean and a less zealous approach to interpretation.
The taskforce has recommended policy makers should consult more with businesses at an earlier stage and produce better guidance on how laws will be operated and enforced.
It found that poor official guidance, over compliance and a lack of clarity in what laws will actually mean for business, led to a creep of additional red tape and legislative burdens.
The report cites health and safety, food regulation and anti-money laundering laws as examples of areas where regul-atory creep has created added bureaucracy for employers.
David Arculus, the taskforce chairman, said the situation was making regulation overly complicated for organisations.
“The reasons why regulatory creep occurs can be complex and cumulative. For example, goal-setting legislation is admirable since it is flexible and focuses on outcomes rather than processes.
“We found that accompanying guidance can be overly prescriptive and thus interpreted as ‘must do’ rather than ‘can do’,” he said.
“To avoid this sort of confusion we recommend that guidance documents should carry a clear statement of their purpose and legal status, so that everyone is clear about what is compulsory and what is best practice.”
The report urges the Government to adopt a goal-based system and to perform more checks to ensure the paperwork involved in legal compliance is reduced.
Meanwhile, Tony Blair has promised the civil service will adopt a more flexible approach to business regulation. In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry, the Prime Minister conceded that red tape was a major concern for business and said that government agencies needed to simplify inspection and enforcement.

HEADLINE: Sick ‘should get back to work’

TEXT: The Government has called on doctors to help deal with Britain’s chronic sickness absence problem by encouraging people to get back to work following illness or injury.
Work and pensions minister Alan Johnson is worried that excessive time off work can be counterproductive to employment prospects, and that long periods of inactivity can actually be worse for employees’ health.
He said a new White Paper would urge the NHS to see a return to work following sickness absence as the norm.
Although figures show 90 per cent of those on incapacity benefit want to get back into employment, the chance of this is reduced the longer they spend on benefits.
“Increasingly doctors agree that signing some people off as long-term sick is not always the best way to deal with their health problems. For people who are able to work again, a job can be an important step on the road to recovery,” Johnson said.
“Rather than rest being the best remedy for back pain, for example, research now shows it can actually delay recovery and make things worse. Advising patients to stay active can get them back to work and on with their lives,” he added.
He said the Government’s forthcoming White Paper on public health would highlight the role work can have in helping people recover from illness and would emphasise the damaging impact of being out of work.
Research by Personnel Today and Doctor magazine found a 30 per cent rise in sick notes, with 77 per cent of doctors admitting they issued them too easily.

HEADLINE: Retirement age hike ‘crucial’

INTRO: Pensions Commission says combination of measures needed to prevent pensioner poverty

TEXT: * An increase in the average retirement age could be a crucial factor in solving Britain’s pensions crisis, a report by the Pensions Commission has found.
The report said society faced some hard choices and that employers would play a crucial role in shaping the future of pension provisions for the UK’s ageing workforce.
It warned that 12 million people are not saving enough for retirement and a combination of higher taxes, a higher average retirement age and increased savings would be required to improve the situation.
Adair Turner, chairman of the independent body established by the Government in 2002 to investigate the pensions system, said employers must be involved in the debate on improving the pensions system.
“Employers have a key role to play in meeting the pensions challenge. An increase in the age of retirement will be a key element of the required solution. If higher taxes or compulsory savings are to be avoided, employer involvement in pension provision must rise. New ideas on how to achieve this are needed,” he explained.
The report said Britain must choose a mix of later retirement, higher taxes and National Insurance, more savings, or pensioners would become poorer.
Meanwhile, a separate report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation claims that policy-makers have failed to grasp the impact of the UK’s ageing population. It warns that
older people are too often seen as a burden and that age discrimination is built into the fabric of society. (See p11 for additional information on age discrimination.)

HEADLINE: TUC calls for more Bank Holidays

TEXT: * Trade unions have stepped up the campaign to increase the number of Bank Holidays from eight to 11 to bring the UK up to the European average.
The TUC is lobbying the Government for an additional three bank holidays and more stringent protection for employees who choose to work during public holidays.
It has intensified the campaign by revealing figures that show 20,000 visitors to its website voted for an increase.
The results show the majority of staff want an extra day off to coincide with the Autumn half term holiday.
Four in 10 respondents wanted a new bank holiday in late October, while a third voted for either St George’s, St Andrew’s or St David’s day.
The TUC claims the UK economy could deal with the increased number of public holidays because employees not at work would have a positive impact on other areas of the economy, particularly in retail and tourism.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the move would help reduce the burden of stress on the British workforce and allow millions of working parents to spend time with their families.
“The country could comfortably cope with a day off to break the 16-week holiday-free stretch.
“Millions of employees could give our leisure and retail industries a boost,” he said.
The UK offers workers the second lowest number of public holidays across the European Union, which has an average of 11.35 days.

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