The Administrative Burdens Reduction Programme was launched by the Government in 2005. Aiming to reduce the annual cost to business of complying with administrative regulations, the programme set the tough target of reducing the burden by 25 per cent by 2010.
The NAO has kept a close eye on the programme, producing annual reports that have substantiated the Government's boasts in relation to activity (240 initiatives have been introduced to tackle the problem) but casting doubt on the official estimates for savings. Departments claim to have saved businesses a net £1.9 billion last year, but the NAO stresses these figures must be treated with caution: "claimed reductions are ... estimates of savings, rather than an accurate absolute measure."
Alongside monitoring the Government's efforts, the NAO has carried out frequent surveys of business to see what effect the changes have had on the ground. Today saw the release of the 2009 edition of the 'Business Perceptions Survey', and it presents a mixed picture. For the full report, see here, but a summary of the results is laid out below.
45 per cent of respondents agreed that regulation was 'fair and proportionate', but less than 40 per cent felt it was 'easy to comply with regulations'. Over two thirds of businesses still believe that Government does not understand business well enough to regulate. The same proportion still do not believe Government consults well before new regulations are introduced, despite the introduction of regulatory impact assessments.
Just one per cent of businesses said that complying with regulations had become less time consuming in the last year, whereas 37 per cent said it had become more time consuming.
There has been a positive shift from 2008 in business attitudes towards eight specific aspects of compliance, which, despite the fact that 97 per cent of business felt they spent the same or more time complying as last year, would suggest the Government is having some success improving the perception of compliance.
Interestingly, of those businesses that were aware of the Department for Business's guidance or tools - provided on the business link website - 69 per cent felt they had helped. Less than a third of those businesses that were aware of this help though, felt it had led to cost savings. Only 33 per cent of businesses had used the businesslink website.