Red Tape Challenge failed - but still changed Whitehall for the better says Reform

Cultural change in the civil service proves to be the Red Tape Challenge’s silver lining according to Reform

By Samera Owusu Tutu

16 Dec 2014

The Red Tape Challenge may have failed to cut the financial burden in the eyes of think tank Reform, but the positive cultural impact it has had on Whitehall cannot be underestimated, according to the Reform think tank.

“The Red Tape challenge itself didn't actually result in much reduction in regulation, which was the original purpose, but it did change the culture [of Whitehall],” said Reform’s deputy director Richard Harries.

”You see this in places like Defra, where they are now much more open about actually trying to record their entire regulatory stock and making it much easier for people to identify where changes should be made,” he said.

Harries commended the use of nudging techniques and the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in influencing businesses, rather than forcing businesses to behave a certain way by rule of law.

“The Cabinet Office quite rightly said that behavioural insights are not replacements for regulation, but it's a different way of thinking about regulation, about the degree of specification you need, and how much you can actually get people to do the right thing through nudging them in the right direction. [Behavioural insights have] increased the toolbox available to the professional policymaker,” he said.

Reform’s report The Burden of Regulation, published this week, said that only 100 of 21,000 regulations had been removed under the Red Tape Challenge, which intended to reduce the burden of regulation, particularly for business. Reform’s report also estimated a £3.1bn increase in the cost of regulation since the Challenge was launched in 2011.

While the Challenge aimed to reduce financial burden, with a goal of reducing £1 of old regulation for every £1 of new regulation, Harries highlighted that for small businesses it is the complexity of regulations — and the time spent navigating them — that presents the burden.

“When you look at the Federation for Small Business, they do say it's the sheer time involved in dealing with regulation that their members find difficult. It's also not just individual regulations, but complexity of the landscape [and] how different regulations interact; [small businesses] have to make sense of it all. It's just difficult.”

Harries added, however, that there “has been a recognition”, within the civil service, of the need to reduce the time spent dealing with regulation.

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