The DTI's stated aim is to increase productivity. But does its confused identity, ineffective schemes and growing desire to regulate actually inhibit progress? Stephen Overell investigates
Patricia Hewitt believes the Department of Trade and Industry should be run "like a first rate business" and, like all first-rate - or for that matter third-rate - businesses, it feels the need to write down what it is there for. The mission of the DTI is: "To increase competitiveness and scientific excellence in order to generate higher levels of sustainable growth and productivity in a modern economy."
Whenever employers learn of this aim, the reaction tends to be surprise, bordering on disbelief. Employers want growth, yet they see the department raining down upon them a biblical plague of vengeful legislation and red tape, assisting the machinations of the European Commission to render the UK as bureaucratic, inflexible and dirigiste as possible.
Traditionally, the purpose of the DTI may well have been business support. But since 1995, when the Employment Department was scrapped and its work shared out between the then Department for Education and Employment and the DTI, it has been forced to embrace what could be seen as the alien agenda of employment relations. And it has embraced it with what employers regard as unhealthy zeal. The Better Regulation Task Group notes that in 1998 and 1999 there were no fewer than 11 major pieces of employment legislation - the same number as in the 20 years between 1976 and 1996.
A significant majority of HR directors believe that complex employment law is hindering productivity, according to a July 2002 report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). By the Government's own admission, the cost of regulation introduced since 1997 now comes to £5bn a year. Yet ministers do not perceive the conflict that employers see all too readily - that a department whose purpose is business support is also responsible for the legislation that businesses allege is holding back growth.
Arguably, resting in the DTI are all the Labour Party's ambiguous feelings towards business as a whole. Trade and industry is one of the least glamorous patches in Whitehall and Hewitt is the fourth secretary of state since 1997 - her the predecessors being Peter Mandelson, Margaret Beckett and Stephen Byers. Yet the DTI s