I’ve just come off the phone after speaking to a nice person at the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. She sounded a little concerned, or maybe that was just bemusement, after I pointed out that the UK Government’s latest brain-busting measure – known, all chummily, as the Red Tape Challenge – is actually in breach of national security. Why does this matter? Well, it’s taken a little bit of research, but essentially the government appears to have been so hasty to roll out yet another pro-business, pro Daily Mail / Sun Reader, pro corporate industrial lobby idea, that they haven’t bothered to check their own legislation, nor considered what Cutting Red Tape would actually mean.
According to the RTC web site, the aim of the project is:
about harnessing the experience and ideas of those who deal with regulation day-in, day-out to help us cut red tape. Through this site we’re gathering your thoughts on which regulations should stay, which can be merged, which can be scrapped and so on. Ministers and government officials will then use this information to help them cut the right regulations in the right way.
There are, apparently, 21,000 pieces of legislation that are up for review and the real focus comes clear not much further down the page:
The challenge aims to look at the stock of over 21,000 statutory rules and regulations that are active in the UK today. The priority will be to focus on regulations that we know place the biggest burdens on businesses and society.
The Red Tape Challenge starts to look like a nasty piece of work already, as it’s clearly about making it easier for businesses to do what they want more easily, which is essentially to make money. The fillip of “society” at the end is revealed to be code for “more business” as the RTC is actually being run by a team at the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills (the old Department for Trade and Industry).
You can call them if you like to check: it’s 020 7215 5720 and I know it’s that department because it’s in the number range for the old DTI. I also know this because on the BIS website is a big banner promoting the project.
The BIS’s watchword is “growth“; in fact the entire UK government’s watchword is “growth”:
Growth is the Government’s top priority and every part of Government is focused on it. But we need to grow differently.
Growth must be sustainable, shared and balanced – across the country and between sectors of the economy.
There is a clear and active role for Government to create the conditions for the private sector to grow and remove unnecessary barriers that can stifle growth.
And there is a strong role for BIS, as the Department for Growth, in enabling this.
Almost everything that BIS does – from investing in skills to making markets more dynamic and reducing regulation, and from promoting trade to boosting innovation and helping people start and grow a business – helps drive growth.
Growth, especially private sector growth, is a guarantee of environmental harm. It is economic growth that leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a graph I produced for another article:
So, we have an obvious desire – unless, somehow they have overlooked this massively obvious correlation – by the UK government to cause environmental damage. Bear in mind that it would be childs play to construct similar graphs comparing trade to global deforestation, species extinction, water toxification, oceanic fish depletion and so on. Economic growth= environmental damage, end of story.
Then we have this interesting statement on the RTC page:
Are any regulations excluded?
The exercise will not examine regulations in relation to tax or national security.
Ok, so what is National Security. It’s not so hard to find that out because I used to work in something called Business Continuity Management which meant regular contact with the various rules that governed contingency planning at all scales. National Security actually means the protection of anything that is covered by National Emergency legislation; in the UK this falls under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Obviously this is not going to be repealed by the Red Tape Challenge (actually I don’t think anything is, but that’s another matter entirely) as it is at the core of national security legislation. What is particularly interesting are the definitions listed in the Act itself:
19 Meaning of “emergency”
(1)In this Part “emergency” means—
(a)an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare in the United Kingdom or in a Part or region,
(b)an event or situation which threatens serious damage to the environment of the United Kingdom or of a Part or region, or
(c)war, or terrorism, which threatens serious damage to the security of the United Kingdom.
(2)For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) an event or situation threatens damage to human welfare only if it involves, causes or may cause—
(a)loss of human life,
(b)human illness or injury,
(d)damage to property,
(e)disruption of a supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel,
(f)disruption of a system of communication,
(g)disruption of facilities for transport, or
(h)disruption of services relating to health.
(3)For the purposes of subsection (1)(b) an event or situation threatens damage to the environment only if it involves, causes or may cause—
(a)contamination of land, water or air with biological, chemical or radio-active matter, or
(b)disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life.
Ring any bells? Yep, the things related to environmental damage are precisely those that are caused by economic growth, including radioactive matter (hint: Fukushima). Strange also then that is a whole section on the Red Tape Challenge related to the 278 regulations that currently provide at least a bit of protection to the very environment that, were it threatened – say, by a lack of regulation – would be a breach of national security!
Care to take another look at this Mr Cameron, or are you too busy thinking up another business-loving scheme to care?