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This sea of legislation is swamping business

08 July 2005

Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, laments the demise of "joined-up government"

Has that tired old phrase "joined-up government" been thrown out of the window?

Back in the late 1990s, it was Whitehall's favourite phrase. Not any more. It's never mentioned in any of the many meetings I attend when I argue the industry's case and challenge damaging views and policies.

Now, each government department brings in its own regulations, often with little or no consultation with the industry nor, sometimes, with tourism's sponsoring department, the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

Take Alcohol Disorder Zones. The impact of these on town-centre restaurants and hotels, if they come about at the fees being discussed by the Home Office (£100 a week), will literally drive some innocent hospitality businesses, which have absolutely no connection with binge drinking, out of business.

Lumping all food and drink premises together in this way is totally inequitable.

Take the abandonment of the sector-based work scheme for the hospitality industry by the Home Office, which allowed in 9,000 non-EU nationals to work for a year.

The industry has a labour shortage of 100,000 people; how does abandoning the scheme help the industry to close the gap? And how will this help the industry meet its target of creating 500,000 new jobs by 2010?

Take the increase in visa fees by the Home Office. For many overseas visitors, visa fees have been increased from £36 to £50. With other costs, this now means that a typical visitor from India or China (two of the most dynamic generating markets in world tourism) will have to pay £65 to visit Britain, compared with £27 to visit all 15 EU countries operating under the Schengen Agreement.

How does this reflect the government's support for UK tourism? How does this boost overseas visitor numbers by opening up new markets?

Take the recent draft Good Practice Guidance on planning for local authorities published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

The 77-page draft was published on 1 June with a response required by 28 June. Why such haste when it has taken the ODPM 18 months to produce the document? Is this good government?

Take the Treasury's refusal to increase the £35m grant to VisitBritain (the level at which it has been for seven years).

At the same time, the DCMS forecasts that UK tourism will grow from £75b to £100b by 2010. If no more money is invested in marketing and promotion in vital new parts of the world such as China and India, how will that growth be achieved?

Take the decision by the ODPM to repeal the Fire Safety Act, under which the fire authority inspected and licensed hotels and other premises, and advised on safety measure.

Individual premises now have to undertake their own hazard analysis which, in effect, means hiring consultants to undertake this on their behalf - one more example of a relatively simple and straightforward regime being replaced by more complicated regulations.

Finally, let's not forget the chaos in the licensing legislation which businesses are currently grappling with.

Rather than simplifying the rules, they have been vastly complicated; rather than making a licence less expensive, the costs have been increased hugely; rather than making the application easy and simple (as it was under the old regime) it now needs legal advice and assistance to complete.

No-one in government gave any thought to the difficulties that the average operator would face in making an application.

It's easy to get the impression that government is now so regulatory-minded that departments have been given full rein to bring in their own legislation, without consultation on its impact.

Joined-up government has disappeared under a sea of new regulations, each more prescriptive than the previous legislation.

If a more sensitive approach is not adopted, businesses will disappear as well.

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