A major survey of UK businesses’ perceptions of regulation indicates that they feel the compliance burden is decreasing, but less so in health and safety than in other areas of the law.
The National Audit Office and Local Better Regulation Office questioned nearly 2300 businesses – some inspected on health and safety matters by the HSE, others by their local council. They found that the proportion of businesses agreeing that the level of business regulation is an obstacle to their success fell from 62 per cent in 2009 to 55 per cent in 2012.
However, businesses’ perceptions of the Government’s approach to regulation are less positive in 2012 than they were in 2010, when an equivalent survey was carried out. One-third of businesses felt that, overall, complying with regulation had become more time-consuming over the last year, with nearly three-quarters agreeing that the length of time it takes to comply with health and safety law, in particular, is burdensome – significantly higher than the average across all areas of the law.
There was also a striking discrepancy between respondents’ perceptions of the approaches of central government and local government to health and safety regulation. Some 31 per cent of HSE-regulated businesses agreed that most regulation is fair and proportionate – much lower than the average of 41 per cent across all regulations – while 46 per cent of local authority-enforced businesses also concurred with this statement.
Many businesses said it is not easy for them to find information on which health and safety regulations applied to their operations. They also had difficulty finding guidance explaining what must be done to comply with certain regulations. Completing paperwork and retaining records were cited as further headaches.
Lack of time or resource, as well as concern about penalties for non-compliance, were cited as the major reasons why businesses use external agents to help them comply with health and safety law. Key sources of advice used to help businesses comply with health and safety regulation are trade associations – 56 per cent; and external consultants – 44 per cent. The numbers using both these sources for help with health and safety were significantly higher than across all areas of regulation.
Businesses’ satisfaction with local councils regarding the knowledge of their officers about their specific operation has increased for both health and safety (up from 61 per cent in 2010 to 72 per cent in 2012) and fire safety (up from 80 per cent in 2010 to 89 per cent in 2012).
Commenting on the report’s findings, manufacturers’ body EEF welcomed the evidence that the overall regulatory burden may be subsiding, but said more needs to be done. Said its policy director, Steve Radley: “We welcome the Government’s efforts to tackle red tape and note the progress suggested by the report. But, the view from industry is that progress is too slow.
“With its own report showing that more than half of companies still cite regulation as an obstacle to growing their business, the Government can and must do better. In particular, it must grasp the opportunity with its forthcoming employment-law reforms to take measurable actions that will make a real difference to business.”
The Business Perceptions Survey 2012 is available on the National Audit Office website at http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1213/business_perceptions_2012.aspx