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Heathcoat-Amory: Conservatives will reverse tide of red tape

Speaking at the launch of the Conservatives' Business Manifesto, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, David Heathcoat-Amory:

"Elections tend to be about plans to spend public money. But elections also need to be about how the country makes money. It is only the taxes paid by businesses and their employees that enable us to fund first class public services.

"Labour is living off the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s which created a world class economy. But this achievement is fragile. Although it takes time to show up because of the lags involved the loss of competitiveness since 1997 is clear.

"Britain has fallen from 4th to 9th in the World Economic Forum rankings of most competitive countries.

"Michael Portillo has already described the dangers of excessive business taxation. Equally important, the regulatory burden is rising. This has been measured objectively. For instance the British Chambers of Commerce estimates that new regulations introduced in the last Parliament will cost £15 billion.

"This increasing burden is this commonest complaint we get from businesses of all sizes, particularly small ones. Government ministers have no idea of what over-regulation means. The Better Regulation Taskforce has failed.

"Tougher action is required. A Conservative Government will reverse the rising tide of red tape.

"First, government should not measure its own regulation. So we will set up a powerful Deregulation Commission, which will make an independent assessment of the cost of new regulations and have the power to block any that are disproportionate or have an excessive cost.

"And the total regulatory burden imposed by each government department will have to fall year by year - with a named minister in each department reporting annually to Parliament on progress.

"Increasingly business is being expected to perform roles which are more properly the role of government. This is making them uncompetitive. So we will pay the Working Families Tax Credit direct to recipients, freeing businesses from doing the State's work.

"The European Union is the fountain of much of the excessive regulation. But Labour has an appalling record of standing up for Britain's businesses in Brussels - and at the Nice Summit gave up our veto in more key areas. We will not ratify this flawed Treaty, but will renegotiate it and prevent further transfers of power from Westminster to Brussels.

"We will also conduct an audit of current regulations emanating from Brussels to ensure that all exemptions, for example to small firms have been exploited.

"One of the most galling problems for British businesses is that they find that regulations and directives that are intended to apply to all EU member states are enforced zealously by British officials and more pragmatically or not at all by other governments.

"It is hard to believe that a small trader in Italy would be prosecuted by the local council for using the weights and measures favoured by his customers.

"We will also protect British business from over-enforcement or 'gold-plating' of regulations. We will ensure that European directives are implemented in Britain no earlier and no more stringently than other EU member states.

"We pledge to return the role of regulators to that of an economic regulator with the promotion of competition as their primary objective. The government has built a range of other tasks, sometimes contradictory, which are expensive and have not been debated or approved by Parliament. This goes some way to explaining why the DTI's budget has soared by 53 per cent since 1997 including 1560 more civil servants.

"Our aim is a smaller DTI and bigger businesses. But a DTI which is effective at standing up for business against excessive taxes and regulations.

"We will free the IT sector by reviewing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which goes beyond the requirements of security and places unreasonable burdens on this sector.

"The UK is lagging behind most other developed countries on the introduction of broadband technology. So we will ensure that the structure of the market is pro-competition to ensure fair and open access to local networks.

"We recognise that for businesses to prosper they must be able to count on a workforce with up-to-date skills. Our policy of giving every school in the country the freedom to develop its own ethos and specialisms will encourage excellence in vocational education.

"Our proposals for endowing universities will allow higher education institutions to forge links with business and from the private sector without being penalised through a reduction in their grant. Promoting closer collaboration between universities and business will ensure requisite skills can be developed. And we will divert funds from the DTI to business-led organisations that can provide small businesses with the kind of focused, relevant training they value.

"Britain has always been a nation that has prospered from free trade. We want Europe to look beyond its own limits and change its stance from dragging its feet on global free trade to driving an agenda of tariff-free global free trade by 2020. And as a major step towards that vision, a Conservative Government will campaign for a free trade treaty between the EU and NAFTA at the earliest opportunity.

"So a Conservative Government will cut taxes, pare back regulation on businesses, take practical steps to raise the level of skills in Britain, stand up for Britain's businesses in Europe and pursue an ambitious goal of global free trade.

"These are policies that can restore to Britain the competitiveness that we have lost over the last four years, and can once again make the British model one that our competitor countries look to emulate, not avoid."

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