Monday, November 20, 2006

Red tape

Britain is being strangled by miles of "bizarre and petty" red tape that governs everything from the correct way for a farmer to tag a goat's ear to the dangers of falling conkers, a new book says.

Author Ross Clark believes excessive regulations frustrate businesses, waste time and drive people to break the law.

He paints a picture of a fearful society dominated by meddling officials working for a nanny state intent on wiping out all risk.

"It becomes increasingly difficult to stay within the law," Clark said. "If you have laws that are simple to understand, people are more likely to keep to them."

He has spent three years collecting the strangest examples of red tape for a new book, How to Label a Goat.

The title refers to a Welsh regulation: "The Sheep and Goats (Records, Identification and Movement) (Wales) Order 2006".

Over more than 40 pages, it tells farmers how to label their livestock with tattoos or eartags and how to transport them.

From complicated tax and pension law to health and safety rules, Clark details red tape he says "blights" people's lives:

# Soldiers learning the bagpipes have been banned from playing for more than 24 minutes a day to protect their ears.

# A Cardiff pensioner was stopped from getting on a bus because he was carrying a tin of paint, breaking health and safety rules. The bus company later apologised and said it would be more flexible.

# There are 279 different tax forms for businesses, asking more than 6000 questions.

# Landlords in Kent were ordered to pull down bundles of hops traditionally used to decorate their pubs. Fire inspectors said they were a hazard and should be treated with chemicals or replaced with plastic hops.

# A study by police in Tayside, eastern Scotland, found more than 1000 different forms available to officers. Of these, only 112 were regularly used and, on closer inspection, 30 were needed.

# New rules on child car seats are laid out over 18 pages, while bus lane regulations stretch to 27 pages.

# Bristol City Council spent £5000 ($NZ14,459) on 100 yew trees, only to dig them up after a "risk assessment" ruled they could harm children at a nearby playground if they ate the leaves.

# Norwich City Council ordered 20 roadside horse chestnut trees to be felled because falling conkers could damage cars, make the pavement slippery and lead to children being run over as they collected conkers. It later reportedly reversed the decision after facing worldwide ridicule.

A culture of "risk aversion" is fuelling the regulatory machine, Clark says. The growth of the public sector and service industry and the use of computers to handle paperwork have also played a part.

In the year to May, the government made 3600 pieces of law covering 98,000 pages – 70 times longer than War and Peace.

Clark says Britain should look to the Netherlands to ease the burden.

The Dutch have a "one in, one out" rule which says that for every new regulation, one must go.

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