Matthew Hancock is MP for West Suffolk. He is Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Minister of State for Energy and Minister of State for Portsmouth.
When we came into government, nearly five years ago, the default position for Whitehall was to bandage up any problem with more red tape.
The result was damaging to the economy, and meant people who wanted to spend their time creating jobs and building businesses had to spend time instead dealing with this burden of bureaucracy. Until recently, many felt that government worked against – not for – business. Turning that attitude around has been a driving passion of Conservatives in Government.
We have waged war against bureaucracy and we’re beginning to see success. Today we can say that this is the first Parliament in modern history with a lower burden of domestic regulations at the end of it than at the start. The scale of the savings are a record £10 billion.
We have not been able to do it on our own. We’ve brought in and listened to over 30,000 businesses and individuals from across the UK, and together we’ve overhauled a convoluted, overly-cautious and enterprise-averse Whitehall machine.
It’s been detailed and painstaking work to rip out regulations that smothered growth and killed off jobs.
We’ve saved small firms £300 million by giving them the freedom to decide whether their accounts need to be audited, we’ve introduced Early Conciliation so employment issues can be settled more quickly, easing the burden for small firms, and we’ve fundamentally changed health and safety laws – meaning you can’t be done for health and safety so long as you behave reasonably.
These are serious changes. But it’s the absurdities we’ve removed that show the depths of the problem we faced.
Babysitters had to register as a food business if they wanted to feed children. Village halls needed a license to play live music before 11pm. Bus companies had to hang on to mouldy fruit for 48 hours because it counted as lost property. Failing to report a grey squirrel on your land was a criminal offence.
We’ve even got rid of the age limit for buying chocolate liqueurs. Can you imagine the sorry sight of a group of teenagers sat on a park bench getting off their faces on a box of Thorntons?
In the next parliament, if we carry on this work, we can deliver a total £20 billion of savings by 2020, by reducing burdens on job creators. And we must win the same fight abroad. There are signs the EU are starting to follow our lead. The German Cabinet recently introduced the same “one in one out” rule we introduced. The last European Council signed up to the same approach in principle. Fine words. Now they must follow our lead – and we will make sure they do. The Conservatives in government will make Brussels take action and put jobs and growth first.
For me it’s personal.
I grew up in a small business near Chester, surrounded by my family’s small IT firm. I saw my parents battle to get their business off the ground. On one occasion a health and safety officer spent a two day visit inspecting the company. They wouldn’t let us pass the inspection because the bleach in the cupboard was not labelled properly. I remember writing the sign that said “do not drink” on the bleach in the kitchen cupboard – and with that we passed the inspection.
Making life easier for buisnesses to grow, create prosperity, and create jobs is vital to Conservatives. Yes, it’s because we believe in freedom and responsibility. But it’s more than that.
Our economy can’t flourish, and our nation can’t rise. So we must give enterprise its head. Let each idea flourish. Trust people and reduce the burden placed on them by the state.
Ending the burden of bonkers bureaucracy is part of that plan. Because we back Britain’s small businesses, and we always will.