The government is pushing forward with its plans to reduce red-tape, recently inviting businesses and individuals to become more involved in its “Red Tape Challenge” by completing a series of questions about the enforcement of rules and regulations. A “Red Tape Challenge Enforcement” website has been set up at www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk until 31 August 2011.
The Health & Safety Executive appears to be following a similar “customer friendly theme”. For example, while not directly related to employment matters, at a formal level the HSE has recently issued new less stringent guidelines for school teachers, including a document on “Tackling the health and safety myths“. As reported last month, at a less formal level there was an entertaining spat recently between the HSE and the Wimbledon authorities when, on a rainy day, Wimbledon refused to allow spectators on to the slippery “Henman Hill” – or “Murray Mount” – and switched off the giant TV screens there. Wimbledon blamed health and safety – eliciting a furious public letter in response from Judith Hackett, HSE chair. She pointed out that there was nothing in health and safety law requiring Wimbledon to take such action, and suggested that if they meant that they were concerned about insurance, then they should say so.
Perhaps the intended intervention of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the religious discrimination cases noted in the immediately preceding article can be viewed as a further indication that “officialdom” is seeking to inject a greater degree of common sense and balance than might previously have been the case into the manner of enforcement of laws which (at least in the eyes of the popular press) might be regarded as “red tape”.
As for “gold plate”, back in November 2010 the coalition government announced that it would take active steps to stop “gold-plating” of European Directives – the practice of national bodies exceeding the terms of European Community directives when implementing them into national law. One of the more interesting proposals was that European directives would henceforth normally be directly copied into UK legislation except where this would adversely affect UK interests, for example by putting UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
The government has now published a consolidated version of its “Guiding Principles for EU Legislation” setting out further detail. It says that it will hold the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament to account on commitments they have already made on regulating only when absolutely necessary, and on assessing the costs and benefits of new legislation before proposing or agreeing to it.
One notorious example of “gold plating” is in the TUPE regulations. Those regulations, which of course give employees extensive rights if the business they work for is transferred to a new owner, implement the EU Acquired Rights Directive 2001/23 in the UK. However the TUPE regulations go further than required by the Directive – specifically, the UK regulations apply where there is a “service provision change”, such as where a local education authority outsources to a private company the provision of school meals which it previously provided using its own employees. More controversially, the same rule can mean that if a dissatisfied client of a law firm (which employs a dedicated team of staff working on that client’s business) decides to move its business to another law firm it may find the same dedicated team is now working for the new law firm as a result of TUPE.