Type “red tape” into Google and 0.32 seconds later your computer coughs up a tidy 13.3 million results*. “Cutting red tape”, on the other hand, pulls down a more modest 700,000 entries.
Now there isn’t enough time or space here to set out the relationship between these two figures and what it says about public preoccupations and assumptions, and the role of resigned determinism in the national psyche, but what I can say is that doing away with the stuff – red tape, that is – generally goes down well with the public, and all the more so because it is generally unexpected.
Rules and regulations
I’ve talked about this before, I know, and you may remember that tourism and hospitality were the subjects of one of the Red Tape Challenge exercises last year. People working in the business were asked to nominate rules and regulations that were costing them time and money, and holding back their growth and success, and we undertook to do away with any we found where there was no good or sensible reason to keep them.
We ended up being able to scrap or greatly simplify 60 or so out of more than a hundred put forward. I followed this up by asking Alan Parker to take on a wider role as head of a new Tourism Regulation Taskforce to examine the sector from top to bottom. We published his report last week and, as with the earlier exercise, we’ll now be going through it to see what other bits of nonsense can be binned. I’m glad he’s been bold enough to think big and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do to keep our red-tape-cutting strike rate up.
As part of all this, I was also pleased this week to start the formal process of scrapping a particularly bonkers pair of regulations that came into being as part of the 2005 Gambling Act. Did you know, for example, that it’s against the law to employ anyone under 18 in any capacity or in any job on a racecourse where betting takes place? Or that you can’t locate a fruit machine in an ‘airside bar’ at a British airport? Neither rule has any logical basis.
Why on earth shouldn’t a 16 or 17 year old work as a stable lad or part of the catering staff at a race track? It’s fair enough to stop them from working in gambling roles, but not – surely – for working as a jockey? Lester Piggott was 12 when he won his first race (having been racing for two years already) and was 18 when he won the first of nine Derby winners**.
And why should air passengers suddenly be denied the chance to idle away a few minutes with a quiet flutter on a fruit machine simply because they’d checked in and were waiting for their plane to be called? A flutter, indeed, that they would have been able to have in any other bar in Great Britain?
Both these things came about, as it happens, because of what is glibly described as the ‘unintended consequences’ of an Act of Parliament (the Gambling Act) which, when coupled with another (the Licensing Act) made them illegal. Well, one man’s ‘unintended consequence’ can turn into another man’s minor irritation or, far worse, one young man (or woman’s) missed job opportunity. Fortunately, there seems to have been a considerable amount of blind-eye turning in all this because, as far as my officials can tell, neither ‘unintended consequence’ was ever enforced, which is a victory for common sense, I suppose, but a victory that couldn’t necessarily have been taken for granted.
More – much more, I hope – of this in the months to come.
*The word “tourism” generates 638,000,000 hits, by the way, while “dcms” gets 7,100,000. “John Penrose” hauls up just 456,000 (amazingly, all the ones on the first page refer to the author of this blog – apart, that is, from the reference to ‘expensive celebrity divorces’ which, rest assured, is about someone else entirely).
** Indeed the youngest ever Derby winner was a 16 year old, John Parsons, in 1862, riding a horse called Caractacus. And since you ask, Caractacus (also spelled Caratacus) was the king of the Catuvellauni at the time of the Roman invasion under their commander, Aulus Plautius.
Red tape image ©Crown copyright. Horse racing image by Paolo Camera on Flickr. Some rights reserved.