The main problem faced by the government, the economy and the construction industry is over-regulation. Tackling it should be the main task of Labour’s third term
For me, The overwhelming message from the general election last week was the confirmation that we must find a better way of governing this country than the clapped-out three-party, first-past-the-post system.
After an interminable three weeks of yah-boo electioneering, it was impossible to determine who was telling the truth, who was avoiding telling the truth, who was embellishing the truth or who was lying to us. All the sycophantic stage-managed events, the character assassinations and the tactical leaking cynically diverted the electorate’s attention from what should have been the key points: the restoration of business confidence and the need to get our faltering economy going again.
By far the most important task is to reduce the burden of bureaucratic regulation. This is the underlying cause of most other problems and should be Blair–Brown’s first priority. Here are my suggestions of where they could start.
- Pensions The collapse of our pensions system was abetted by failures within the pensions industry itself, but the principal cause was disastrous regulation by Brown. The Pensions Commission he set up last year is dominated by the government and the pensions industry establishment, both of which have vested interests in maintaining their own defined benefit schemes. These schemes are funded by those of us who are on considerably less generous packages. The commissions will not solve the problems associated with the pension system and will probably exacerbate them.
Why have we allowed the government to persuade us to pilot identity cards under the cover of the CSCS scheme
Pensions must be taken out of politics through a new Pensions Board that is independent of government, politicians, unions and the pensions industry. It needs to deliver equitable products for the present generations of 20 to 40 year olds. Only then will saving for retirement come back into fashion.
- Building Regulations Successive governments have been earnestly promising and failing to deregulate since Michael Heseltine took over the Department of the Environment in the late 1970s. Within a year he had doubled the length of the Building Regulations, and they have grown ever since.
- Taxation Why do we encourage the government to single out for special treatment subcontractors and those who engage them? The self-employed are essential to our economy, so why do we allow the unions and the Inland Revenue to treat them as pariahs? And why do our institutions generally endorse that view?
The Construction Industry Scheme and the IR35 regulations must be scrapped. All businesses should be registered and taxed in the same way, with no special treatment for construction or the self-employed.
- CSCS Why have we allowed the government to persuade us to pilot identity cards under the cover of CSCS? It was sold to us as a skills register, not an addition to a national criminal database. We already had well established skills registers such as NVQs and those maintained by the professional institutions without getting into the business of covert electronic tagging. CSCS must be abandoned and the CITB alone should continue with safety training and testing.
- Retentions These are a powerful regulator to drive down contractors’ final payments. The management of retentions through the supply chain adds a significant cost to the end product and is alien to efficient, integrated working. They should be outlawed in the Construction Act.
- Transport and planning Labour’s promises to integrate the first and modernise the second have failed. Planning and infrastructure have to be taken out of parochial political control and managed by a single national economic planning regime. This would be an ideal linchpin for the new Department for Economic Development, Transport and Construction that we need.
All Blair and Brown have to do is what they said they would – for once. If only I had more faith in the probity of our politicians and their advisers …