Red Tape – the beautiful excuse!

Along with doubtless thousands of others, I received an invitation from Number 10 to participate in the Red Tape challenge- disruptive business models – whatever that may mean. So let’s crack on with the topic. All those in favour of Red Tape, raise your hands! What no-one? Amazing!

 Let’s re-phrase the question. How would you like to operate your business in a restraint free environment where you could maximise your profits without having to invest in your business? Ah a little more interest I detect – because of course UK industry is struggling under the yoke of unfair restraint and regulation that makes it impossible for us to compete on a level playing field….right?

 How nicely this fits the political agenda. We can heap blame on all those overpaid public workers that are such a burden upon enterprise. We can attempt to sweep away employment rights and general business restraints because surely these are what really hold us back.

Of course we wouldn’t want to go as far as shoving little boys up chimneys again or dumping our toxic waste straight in the nearest trout stream would we?  Of course not – at least not on our own doorstep; we may be somewhat less fussy at what happens in the Philippines perhaps but no we are corporately responsible beings. Profit at any price is not our mantra – excluding a few notable exceptions – you know who you are…

Strange as it may seem, I cannot see how an economy such as Germany can manage to survive at all. Higher Corporation and Income Tax than the UK, heavily regulated regarding all those burdensome issues such as Health and Safety and Employment rights, active Trade Unions and all – not to mention the costs of re-unification. Why isn’t it the sick, dead or dying man of Europe?

 The removal of Red Tape and light touch regulation is no panacea and can be downright dangerous as our recent banking crisis clearly demonstrates. It’s time to own up to what actually blights considerable numbers of  UK companies –namely directors and shareholders with short-term interests.

 While over-hyped executives seek to maintain an environment in which they can keep awarding themselves ever-larger bonuses, they must deliver (or at least promise) dividends that encourage shareholders to go along with them.

Take a walk round any older manufacturing town or City and you can see the lasting effects of lack of investment in plant, machinery and R&D; manufacturing technologies developed in the UK and sold abroad at the expense of UK jobs; skill shortages in key areas because businesses didn’t want the expense of ITBs; factories bled dry of investment, leaving them unable to compete on a world stage.

 I am not against well-paid executives or reasonable return on investment for shareholders. I am against trying to heap the blame for failure on the people least responsible. It isn’t teachers, nurses or minimum wage workers who have bankrupted the UK but the failure of business and Governments over decades to invest in its future.

 If Mr Cameron contacts me again, I will tell him that I can live with the Red Tape but there’s many thousands of jobs that are disappearing in Derby thanks to a contract his Government awarded overseas. I’m not sure I can live with that kind of decision - and recent others like it.

 Decency and a sense of fairness aren’t high on the list of priorities for the candidates lining up for the new series of the Apprentice. It’s about time they were – and UK businesses would reap real and lasting benefits. Actually most of the people I meet in business are fair-minded decent people. They want their staff to progress and deliver returns for themselves and the company. So who put the lunatics in charge?



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