If you want something done right, do it yourself. It’s a common phrase for those of a pragmatic turn of mind, which might have been assumed to include the manufacturing and engineering community. But perhaps not. Jane Gray asks why so few manufacturers are willing to take on the responsibility of engaging with government despite identifying regulation as a hindrance to business.
The Red Tape Challenge, a concept mooted by the Coalition almost immediately on its accession, was launched in April 2011 with a reasonable splash in the mainstream press including television and radio networks. Inevitably though, the short attention span of the national press and indeed the general populace quickly moved on.
This does not mean that the Challenge itself disappeared. The initiative, which asks for advice from individuals, lobby groups and businesses on ways to reduce regulatory red tape in business and enterprise, has been steadily rolling on with its mission to identify and remove unnecessary barriers to flexible business and growth in the UK.
To rationalise this agenda and show that government acknowledges the individual requirements of different sectors, the Red Tape Challenge has been electing specific groups for ‘spotlight periods’. The retail community was the first to have its turn (April 7-May 10). The sector submitted around 9000 suggestions for reform or abolition across 257 pieces of retail legislation. In July, the fruits of this interaction with government were revealed as Business Secretary, Vince Cable announced that government has now committed to removing around half of this legislation.
By sad comparison the spotlight period for manufacturing contribution to the Red Tape Challenge has, so far, been a flop. By August 4, the day marking the official closing period for the manufacturing spotlight, just one manufacturer, Ian Benton of Merseyside-based electronics company, Electrovision, had contributed any comments across the four manufacturing specific areas of regulation.
For manufacturing and engineering trade bodies, industry spokespeople and the trade press this response has been baffling. If approached by any one of the above, owners and leaders within UK manufacturing firms will readily identify lists of regulations which they feel limit their ability to be competitive, yet when invited by government to take action on removing these, they have fallen silent.
Mr Benton, though he describes himself as a ‘troublemaker’, made clear to TM that he feels it is the responsibility of manufacturers to interact with government – if only for self preservation. “The industrial strategy of government seems to revolve around encouraging itto move to China,” he says. Indeed Mr Benton’s own company has itself been compelled to move its manufacturing to the East, though he did share hopes of repatriating some of these operations in the near future – perhaps a desire which spurred him to make his direct appeals to government.
For Andrew Churchill, managing director of SME engineering firm JJ Churchill, the attitude of the silent majority of his peers is frustrating, but unsurprising. He speaks of deep scepticism among business leaders as to the value of initiatives like the Red Tape Challenge. “Every government administration has had some scheme like this,” he says.
“The simple fact is that most smaller companies think that life is too short to engage with government .”