Assembly Business Bureaucracy Speech- 28/04/2008

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Mr Speaker / Deputy Speaker

  

In giving my support to this motion I am mindful that the Minister is already aware of the concerns of many in the business community on this matter and he confirmed in the Chamber in response to a question on Monday 18 June 2007,

   

“I will do everything in my power to advance the agenda of deregulation, streamlining bureaucracy, simplifying form filling, reducing information requests to businesses.”
This is a welcome statement from Minister Dodds.

   

As has been acknowledged by previous speakers much of the regulation and red tape is coming from Westminster or from the EU.  This does not in any way invalidate this debate as this issue is of concern to business organisations throughout Scotland, Wales and other parts of the UK and to elected representatives of the devolved assemblies in Wales, Scotland and indeed at Westminster.

It cannot be argued that we do not need regulation; it is necessary to ensure that business is transacted in a fair, safe and equitable manner.  

However, it is where the burden of meeting the legislation falls.

  

I want in my short time to highlight the problems of the SME sector and especially those local firms that are family owned and managed.  It is on the shoulders of the owner managers that the task of meeting the regulations rests. It is their time that is required to deal with the red tape, and we all know time is money. And it is estimated that the average SME spends seven hours per week on form filling and meeting regulations; time that could be more usefully spend on activity associated with direct business activity.

  

I want to emphasise also that while this motion calls on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and investment, the problem is not confined to DETI but rather other Government departments also have a role to play in addressing the problem.

  

I also concede that it is difficult to identify exactly where the unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape is; and who is to sort out and adjudicate about the level of necessity.

  

There are many, many reports produced by every business school, university, business organisation and all major business consultancy organisations that highlight this issue as leading to hampering business growth and discouraging business start-ups.

  

However, until at the very highest levels of Government the issue is recognised as being a problem then the potential for the devolved assemblies to address the matter is minimal.  The ethos of Westminster and Brussels must be one of giving support and encouragement to businesses rather than piling additional bureaucratic burdens on their shoulders. The system of government should be driven by an attitude of minimalist is best in the area of red tape; until proven otherwise.

  

So, if this motion is passed it should be carried as a message by all Northern Ireland MPs to the House of Commons and Lords to the House of Lords.

  

I acknowledge that DETI has produced a report in March of this year, Better Regulation Report 2006/2007. This cross departmental report is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

  

It provides us with a baseline, a foundation to build upon; it is a report that will help build some confidence in the SME sector. However we need to move beyond generalisations about red tape. Underpinning the future approach there needs to be, a measurement of the cost to an SME organisation in time, money and effort to show compliance to a legislative body’s requirements, the setting of challenging targets and a measurement system to confirm progress in reducing the bureaucracy is being achieved.

  

Targets that each year can be enhanced; demonstrating progress and helping the business sector increase their effort to spend additional time in real business activity. It is this kind of approach that was outlined by William Sargent, Executive Chair of the Better Regulation Executive in Westminster.

  

This is a business like approach and only this type of action will actually see us making progress.

  

We need to release the entrepreneurs from form filling: we need to give them the seven hours a week to invest in their companies, time to invest in developing the skills base and to create more jobs.

  

This cannot be achieved by the civil servants working in isolation. Business needs to play its part.  A partnership approach so that the Government departments know the impact of new regulations upon small businesses in particular. Creating increasing levels of contact between Government and business owners and managers is necessary. This contact to build profitable two way relationships and increase levels of business understanding within Government. Unless the business community understands what the Government is attempting to achieve and the Government understands the impact of regulations on business then this problem will remain a continuing source of complaint.