Andrew Bridgen is Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire.
Successive Government’s have argued that the UK needs to be part of the European Union so it can influence its direction and its directives. The Government has the perfect opportunity to put this to the test following recommendations put forward by the Lofstedt review on Health and Safety, a review on which I sat on the advisory panel.
During the review it emerged that according to figures obtained from the think tank, Open Europe, 41 of the 65 new health and safety regulations introduced between 1997 and 2009 originated in the EU. As well as this EU directives accounted for 94% of the cumulative cost of UK health and safety regulation introduced between 1998 and 2009.
I would not for one moment argue that all this legislation is bad, and I have no doubt that much of it would have been put in place in any case. There is one interesting statistic however. A review of impact assessments for all regulations found that an overall benefit/cost ratio of £1.58p for every £1 spent, i.e it demonstrates a positive net outcome from regulation. However looking deeper, it has been found that the ratio for EU regulations was just 1.02 compared to 2.35 for just UK regulations. Put simply, EU regulations barely provide any benefits compared to costs.
For our economy to remain competitive globally, this has to be addressed. The report has highlighted specific examples of where EU directives are harming British business, such as one being considered at present to extend eligibility to eye tests to those who work in the UK retail sector. This would be a further burden on business at a time when they can least afford it. Another regulation brought in just last year; the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations is another example of Brussels introducing regulations which according to the Health and Safety Executive ‘have no Health and Safety benefits in Great Britain’.
The report rightly highlights that part of the problem could be due to the fact there is confusion between the terms risk and hazard and states ‘The whole language around risk assessment is grounded in English, which has a clear linguistic distinction between risk and hazard. That distinction is not the same in other European countries. For example, in the Swedish language there is no expression for hazard.’
What is clear is that, like trying to converge 17 economies into one currency has led to economic crisis, trying to apply the same regulatory requirements to 27 member states has led to a number of incoherent and badly focused regulations which are damaging our global competitiveness.
This is an opportunity for the European Union to prove it is serious about reform and serious about growth. Professor Lofstedt has proposed that all draft directives and regulations (and amendments to them) that have a perceived cost to society of more than 100 million Euros should go through an automatic regulatory impact assessment.
As well as this, the European Union has planned a review of new and existing health and safety legislation to be held in 2013. This is an opportunity for the EU to ensure that legislation is not only risk and evidence based, but to move towards the EU better realising its ‘subsidiarity principle’, the principle not to take action unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.’
The EU on their part have introduced measures to improve the way it designs, implements and reviews regulation and the Commission announced a reduction target of 25% of the administrative burden to businesses across the EU to be achieved by 2012. We will have to see whether this is achieved.
It is clear from the Euro problems that a one size fits all regulation regime is doomed to failure. In the global market, the countries of Europe cannot afford a regulatory regime which delivers next to no benefit against cost. It has a chance now to improve its existing stock of regulation. Should this not happen, one would only be able to conclude that the institution is incapable of reform.
As a postscript, I was very disappointed that the Liberal Democrat nominee on the advisory panel failed to attend any of the meetings or despite being asked, failed to send a substitute. It could be argued that this says a lot about the Liberal Democrats federalist zeal for all things EU and their lack of interest in cutting red tape.