Retail boss: Red tape is worse than ever

THE COALITION will today announce plans to exempt hundreds of thousands of businesses from health and safety inspections, as one of the country’s leading businessmen criticised the coalition for taking too long to start tackling red tape.

Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, said the coalition’s decision to focus its efforts on economic growth after two years in power shows it “didn’t take the decisions that it could have taken early enough”.

“I have been sat in meetings with ministers going back well into the last Labour government talking about regulation and its removal but actually there are more regulations today than there have been at any point in time in history for business,” he told Sky News.

But if today’s proposals get the go-ahead, from April 2013 only firms that operate in high-risk areas or have a track record of health and safety breaches will be inspected.

A spokesman for Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told City A.M. that low-risk companies that are likely to be exempt from checks include most offices, shops, hotels, restaurants and pubs.

In addition, the government will introduce legislation next month to ensure that businesses will only be held liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently. The coalition also promised to remove or overhaul more than 3,000 regulations that hinder businesses by the end of next year.

The plans will be launched by Michael Fallon, the new business minister, whose appointment was interpreted as an attempt to ensure there is a strong Conservative voice at BIS to work alongside the Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable.

Many Tories view Cable with suspicion and yesterday Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls sought to exploit these tensions by declaring a willingness to collaborate with him.

“Vince should be listened to on banking reform and on the economy,” Balls told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “I could work with Vince. I would like the Liberal Democrats to say right now that this coalition has failed and we’re going to change course.”

Cable replied he was “delighted” Balls was backing his proposals for a mansion tax on £2m homes. “I have not been embarrassed to call myself a person of the centre left... I am very happy to talk to Ed; I talk to my Conservative colleagues in government in an equally businesslike way.”

He also slapped down Tory wishes for a new form of compensated no fault dismissal to replace unfair dismissal, contradicting Fallon.

Later this week the government will announce reforms to employment law and a new form of industrial policy – which it claims will not be about picking individual winners – in an attempt to boost the economic recovery.