Better regulation saving UK firms £185m

11th April 2014

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Defra's drive to cut 'red tape' and streamline guidance is already saving UK businesses £185 million a year, says government

The environment department has published its final plans for improving environment regulation, predicting that the reforms will now save companies £1.5 billion over the next five years, 50% more than environment secretary announced a year ago.

In Defra: Better for business, the environment department outlines all of the 336 reforms resulting from the government’s red tape challenge, what has been achieved so far and a timetable for further changes.

It states that 20% of proposed regulatory changes – scrapping, consolidating and “improving” environmental legislation – have already been made, saving firms a total of £185 million a year.

A further 55% of the reforms are predicted to be completed by the end of the coalition’s parliamentary term, including amending the Producer Responsibility Regulations to exempt more small businesses and changes to REACH regulation.

Other regulatory changes scheduled for the next 12 months, include repealing noise abatement zones, consolidating some environmental permitting legislation and revising air quality rules to align them better with EU targets. However, the document also reveals that Defra’s plans to streamline the planning and permitting regime by working with the communities department is on hold as it’s not “economically viable”.

The plan also outlines the goals of the ongoing “smarter environmental regulation review”, which includes cutting the amount of time UK businesses spend reporting information to Defra and its bodies by 20% by April 2016. The environment department claims that the move will save firms a total of 850,000 working hours and £40 million a year.

Consultations on how Defra can rationalise environment and marine reporting requirements will open later this month and the environment department aims to introduce a simplified reporting system in June 2015.

The Defra plan also confirms that third-party certification is set to play a bigger role in Environment Agency inspection regimes. According to the document, the so-called EMS+ pilots held last year were a success and the regulator is to work with industry bodies to rollout a scheme by December 2014.

Despite concerns over the impact of removing 80% of guidance Defra offers businesses, the department remains committed to the goal and states that the move will save companies £100 million a year, because guidance will be “much easier to follow”.

“I want compliance to be simple, not difficult; rules to be straightforward, not a cashcow for lawyers and consultants,” wrote Owen Paterson in his introduction to the plan.

“To unlock growth we must get out of people’s hair so business can focus on what they are good at. Through initiatives, such as the red tape challenge, we have started to untangle some of the rules that can have a stranglehold on business.”

The environment department’s deregulation strategy was welcomed by Lucy Smith, environment manager at UK Steel. “This is not about avoiding responsibility, but about being more efficient in the way we do things and making it simpler to engage and comply.

“The new consultation system makes the task of responding much more appealing [and] the practical navigation of lends itself well to the time-stretched environment manager. The addition of DefraLex will improve this even further.”

The environment department launched the prototype of DefraLex – an online environmental legislative database – alongside its new plan and is asking users for feedback on how the site could be improved.

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