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Red tape challenge: Vince Cable announces cull of ridiculous regulations affecting the retail sector

29 July 2011

Yesterday the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, announced proposals in relation to the first results from the Red Tape Challenge. The Government plans to scrap or simplify around 160 out of the 257 regulations reviewed in relation to retailers.

Many of the plans are quite specific to particular businesses and/or have little impact on businesses as they are outdated or used very little anyway. The following proposals have been made:

  1. Removing the requirement to have an alcohol licence in order to sell liqueur chocolates
  2. Lowering the age for buying harmless Christmas crackers from 16 to 12
  3. Removing rules relating to the safety of pencils, prams and hood cords where consumers are protected by other legislation
  4. Removing various specific burdens identified by retailers including:
  • simplifying the procedures for age verification for the selling of age-restricted goods
  • simplifying the poisons licensing system for low risk products such as fly spray or toilet cleaner
  • removing the requirement to notify TV Licensing about TV sales
  • simplifying the rules on transport products such as tyres

Other proposals are merely to remove redundant legislation such as the Trading with the Enemy Act and the 98 regulations linked to it!

The Government also proposes to simplify consumer rights law by replacing and simplifying over 12 pieces of legislation which it says are overlapping, costly and confusing. These will be replaced with a single piece of new legislation.

Going forward

How and when the above proposals will be put in place is unclear. The legislative process can be a cumbersome one and it may be a while before we see anything tangible come of these proposals.

Whatever the position, it is important that firms are aware that at this stage these are still only proposals and the law itself has not yet changed. In many instances the removal of the legislation may not remove the ultimate obligation on the retailer which will remain in other existing legislation. This is especially so in relation to safety which is covered by the overarching General Product Safety Regulations. Similarly, in relation to consumer law there is no indication that consumer rights will be reduced in any way, but merely that the legislation will be simplified in terms of its understanding and the bureaucracy involved. This could indeed have the effect of encouraging more consumers to seek redress under legislation if they find it easier to understand!

The challenge

The Red Tape Challenge, which began in April this year, is part of the Governments Growth Agenda and is aimed at simplifying and reducing the 21,000 regulations affecting businesses, volunteers and the public. The scheme is run through a website. Every few weeks various regulations are published on the website relating to a particular sector or industry. Anybody is able to access the website and comment on any particular statutory instrument identified for review. When the period for comments closes Ministers have three months to decide which regulations to keep and which to scrap, taking account of the comments provided. Areas which have already been reviewed are retail, hospitality, food & drink, road transportation, and equalities. Manufacturing is currently under review.

The Governments proposals in relation to other sectors are now eagerly awaited, as is their response to the ongoing review of "general regulations". The current proposals are all relatively minor and are unlikely to have any significant impact on the UK trading environment. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Government will deal with more significant regulatory burdens.

To have your say and influence the regulations affecting you, go to the Red Tape Challenge website. Alternatively, for advice on any regulatory issues please contact one of our team on the details below.

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