BusinessPeople In BusinessOn the money: Sir David Arculus’s breakthrough

On the money: Sir David Arculus's breakthrough

When Sir David Arculus was running the better regulation task force he felt he had achieved a real breakthrough when he gained Downing Street’s support for its proposals that an impact assessment should be prepared before any new piece of legislation made it on to the statute book

The theory was that if civil servants and ministers had to quantify the costs
of a proposal and put an estimate on what they saw as the financial gains, then
it would focus their minds on whether a new bit of legislation was worthwhile.
If the assessment was negative it did not mean they had to abandon the measure
but they would have to work harder to persuade colleagues that it was worth the
extra burden.

The reality has turned out to be rather different. Indeed, just how far off
the mark we were was entertainingly pointed out last week by 3i’s Patrick Dunne,
a speaker at the Chartered Secretaries annual conference.

The costs of complying with the legislation were put officially at between
£3m and £5m and the benefits were estimated at between £165m and £340m. However,
further examination showed that the ‘benefits’ were more supposed than real.

Some were supposed to come from the removal of the need for private companies
to hold annual meetings, others from the abolition (since revoked) of the
requirement for a private company to have a company secretary, and others, even
more astonishingly, were imputed savings from having simpler articles of
association.

What was a good idea when it was mooted by Sir David seems to have been
thoroughly undermined in practice. Cynics expected this – but it does show what
an uphill if not impossible task anyone faces when they try to stem let alone
roll back the tide of regulation.

Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard

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