Slow economic growth, painful spending cuts and fears that the Big Society won’t get off the ground. The Times (£) front page is certainly portraying this as a Blue Monday for the Government and there will be plenty more such headlines over the next few months. How does the Coalition start turning this negative news pile-up into some positive story lines? It could do with a few quick hits.
The Government’s education, health and welfare reforms are all essential components of a long-term growth agenda, but they won’t change the economic facts of life for the next year or so. Likewise, the flagship Big Society programmes won’t get off the ground overnight. So what can government do quickly to boost growth and strengthen the voluntary sector to take on the challenges (and opportunities) presented by the withdrawal of the State? The answer from business owners and social entrepreneurs would be strikingly similar: get rid of regulations now.
I’ve written here before about the need to repeal and cancel chunks of employment regulation, not least the burdens added by last year’s Equalities Act. Every business organisation and most centre-right think-tanks have come up with their own regulatory hit-lists. Charities (particularly those most reliant on local volunteers) and social enterprises are also longing to be free from bureaucracy and box-ticking. New start-ups would like to be offered some short cuts – why does the Charity Commission take 10 weeks to process a new application? Why haven’t we swept away CRB checks (shown to be ineffectual yet holding back thousands of volunteers)?
Removing barriers to enterprise may not sound very new or exciting, but it’s got to be done. Too many of the barriers erected in the Labour years are still standing. As Steve Hilton’s T-shirt says, it’s Big Society we want, not Big Government. The legacy of Big Government is stifling Big Society – as well as trampling the green shoots of Big Growth.