Real Regulatory Reform Requires Focus on How, Not What
With the British economy projected to barely avoid a technical recession this year, it comes as no surprise that the question of how to get the economy growing again has become more pressing. The Mineral Products Association's blueprint for smart regulation can help.
With the British economy projected to barely avoid a technical recession this year, it comes as no surprise that the question of how to get the economy growing again has become more pressing.
From Rishi Sunak’s pledge to grow the economy, to Keir Starmer’s ‘national mission’ to make Britain the fastest growing G7 economy, to Liz Truss’ ill-fated plan for ‘growth, growth, and growth’, the dash for growth has become a cross-party issue.
The Government has zeroed in on regulatory reform as a means of reducing the burden on businesses and boosting growth. As part of that drive, Sunak has continued with the Truss-era Retained EU Law Bill, which will automatically revoke most retained EU law unless it is restated or updated, potentially as soon as the end of this year.
The problem with the Bill is it directs the Government’s zeal for regulatory reform in the wrong direction. For the mineral products sector, like many industries, many EU-derived regulations are widely supported. Regulations on health and safety and environmental protection in particular are highly regarded, setting clear and high standards which the sector abides by.
Regulatory reform can be a powerful tool to drive growth, but focussing Whitehall resources on a rushed review of all EU-derived regulations, even the ones that industry has no desire to see changed, is a questionable priority at this pivotal time for the British economy.
Brexit gave the Government the power to change EU-derived regulations that don’t work; it doesn’t have to mean changing EU-derived regulations that do work, for the sake of it.
There is a risk that the Bill becomes the latest in a long line of well-meaning but ineffective regulatory tweaks, where the text of various regulations is changed, but nothing substantially changes on the ground for industry.
To truly lift the regulatory burden on industry, and especially on the mineral products sector, the Government has to look at how regulations are applied in practice, rather than what they say on paper.
The Mineral Products Association has consulted with MPA members and industry experts, and in Smart Regulation in the Mineral Products Sector, set out eighteen clear regulatory reforms that the Government can enact to really make the difference on the ground for mineral products businesses, reducing the practical uncertainties, costs, duplications, and delays that deter investment and suppress growth.
Many of these proposals focus on the planning and permitting system, both for mineral extraction and for the construction and infrastructure projects which rely on mineral products, including aggregates, cement, concrete, asphalt, and mortar.
For example, applicants should not have to submit the same information over and over during the planning and permitting process. Statutory consultees should be made to respond on time, and strict rules should be brought in to prevent them making spurious demands for more data as a costly delaying tactic. Regulators and planners should have to co-ordinate their site visits wherever possible.
But the principle extends beyond planning and permitting. There is considerable overlap between the reporting requirements under multiple energy and emissions regulation schemes, for example – addressing that overlap would cut out costly duplication of work.
More broadly, the Government should nudge regulators towards more consistent, more efficient, and more growth-oriented performance. Ministers already have the power to extend which regulatory powers are subject to the Growth Duty, and require regulators to produce formal annual reports on how the Duty affects their work – it’s time they pulled these levers.
And most importantly, it’s time for real consistent monitoring of regulator performance, answering the question of ‘who regulates the regulators?’.
Mineral products are essential for the housebuilding and infrastructure projects that will make housing more affordable, improve green transport links, boost our energy security, help our construction sector thrive, and ultimately provide the economic growth this country needs.
But in the current regulatory environment, the mineral products sector is being held back, to the point where permitted reserves of these vital materials are dwindling.
If the Government wants to use regulatory reform to encourage business investment and propel our economy back to sustained growth, then it shouldn’t start by tinkering with the text of every single EU-derived rule. Instead, they should start with the MPA’s blueprint for smart regulation.
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