Poor William Sargent, what has he got himself in to? He’s signed up as a government
stooge and instead has been made to look a right chump.
When elected to power, New Labour was full of promises about its business friendly
credentials. And, as each year brings yet more crippling bureaucratic burdens, the
government’s sole response is to promise better regulation, which is of course at
complete variance to reality.
Poor William is the hapless Executive Chair of the Better Regulation Executive and
has got himself embroiled in a “cross–government Administrative Burdens Reduction
measurement exercise”. Classic Sir Humphrey-speak.
In a model piece of government media manipulation, Poor William managed to get an
on the BBC’s website inviting small business owners to share their grief and concerns
with him about the burden of government regulation.
Now, before we get overexcited, let’s actually have a look at what this initiative
is trying to achieve.
You would be forgiven for believing this is an exercise, or at least a pretend exercise,
in cutting regulations. Oh, no! That would be far too useful. No, this is an exercise,
so they claim, in cutting the length of time it takes you to fill in forms proving
you have complied with the regulations!
So insincere are the attempts to reduce regulation, or in government speak ‘make
it better’, this time round they aren’t even offering empty promises to reduce the
All we are being promised is easier forms to fill in.
So, why has Poor William been made to look such a chump (apart from being a damn
fool to get suckered in by this government in the first place)? Well, follow the
links to the Better Regulation website and there you have your opportunity to tell
them just which regulations are causing all the bother (as if they didn’t know already).
But believe it or not what you have to do if you wish to complain about all the
forms you have to fill in is, well, er … fill in a form!
So, the government’s solution to cutting bureaucracy is to hire bureaucrats to create
more bureaucracy to look into the bureaucracy they might reduce but won’t because
that’s all they know and what they live off.
Can the officials who came up with such utter tripe really be so stupid and out
of touch? Do they truly think this is the way forward? Or, more likely, is this
just another barricade put in the way of actually getting anything done?
You see, this isn’t just a simple straightforward form. As you would expect from
any government form, there are plenty of completely unnecessary questions for the
task in hand – questions that allow them to mine data about you and your business,
no doubt to use against you later, but completely irrelevant to the task in hand.
Then you can’t just explain the problem. First you have to name the regulation,
which will obviously have some completely impenetrable EU directive number assigned
to it. After that they expect you to describe the problem in detail, measure how
long it takes to comply and what the costs are.
In all, there are 23 questions or boxes to fill in when a couple of lines would
do perfectly well.
In a feeble plea for credibility, Poor William whines, “I'm still a businessman;
but now I also serve within government, working closely with the better regulation
team at the Cabinet Office, to deliver benefits for businesses, charities and voluntary
“In this, we have the personal backing of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.”
If Poor William was any sort of businessman he’d be busy running his business. He’d
know any half-decent, self-respecting businessman will be far too busy complying
with the regulations that already exist, trying to keep his company afloat, than
to indulge him and his army of petty officials with their ridiculous little form
that we all know is going to be completely ignored anyway.
So Poor William, what sort of businessman allows his name to be put to such a ridiculous
scheme? No sort of businessman if you ask me.
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