RED tape is probably the topic which makes small business owners in particular the hottest under the collar. However, the phrase is bandied about in the most general of ways without much explanation of exactly what the problems are and their source.
This lack of specifics is not helpful to the business case. If howls of anguish about “red tape” come forth every time the government attempts to improve society’s lot through the likes of better maternity or paternity rights, the general public is likely to put these protests into the “heard it all before” category.
Neither are these huge multi-billion-pound figures dreamed up by lobbying groups, of the total cost of increased red tape, particularly meaningful. How do they really know?
In this issue of The Herald Business magazine, we attempt to shine some light into what, through a lack of meaningful debate, has become rather a dull subject.
Perhaps most illuminating, given Brussels bureaucrats seem to be the usual whipping boys of the business lobby throughout the UK, is that Scottish f irms are particularly concerned about the i mpact of increased regulation from Holyrood.
It always appeared inevitable when the Scottish Parliament came into being in 1999 that the regulatory burden on businesses would increase.
As with management in a company, another layer always creates more bureaucracy as those in the new tier attempt to put their own stamp on things whether it is needed or not.
However, the business community fears the Scottish Parliament is not even trying as hard as London or Brussels to take the shears to its own regulation. So it is not surprising red tape has gone from being the fifth-greatest concern of businesses three years ago to the number two worry.
What is important in all of this is not to brand all regulation bad. Businesses may at times be over-critical of regulation which may actually help them in the long term.
Too little attention is paid to the loyalty of employees who know the business inside out, the history of things and the customers.
So, longer periods of maternity leave, paternity leave rights, and an ability to return to work part-time, even if they hit the whinge button of the business lobby in the short term, might actually be good in the longer run.
A more loyal and better-equipped workforce would surely help firms grow revenues, if they could keep their eyes off the cost line long enough.
Likewise, on the new age discrimination legislation, one gets the feeling that older workers have sometimes been overlooked. However, these are the people with the experience.
Then again, there are other areas in which it appears the red tape is wound too tight.
One hears the tales of how the reappearance of a single bird after many months can cause great delays to the building of i mportant power infrastructure. And there are far more ridiculous situations than this on the regulatory front, and other instances of downright irrelevance.
It is important that red tape is split between that which is for the greater good and that which serves no purpose, and the latter discarded.
When regulation is for the greater good, it should be made as easy as possible. Those who make it should pay particular attention to the impact on small businesses because they have the fewest people to share an increased burden. About 93% of Scotland’s 270,000 firms employ less than 50 people.
It all seems simple enough in theory, but history would dictate it is altogether a different matter in practice.
Ian McConnell is Business Editor of The Herald
It is important that red tape is split between that which is for the greater good and that which serves no purpose – and the latter discarded