Is business regulation a necessary evil, or is it a contradiction in terms? I ask because, at a time when the country needs businesses firing on all cylinders to help drive economic growth, the regulators are doing nothing to help.
In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen a half-hearted effort to rein in the energy giants that will have only marginal impact, and a flat out refusal by the Competition Appeals Tribunal to overturn the OFT’s view that there is nothing to worry about in the news supply chain.
Energy regulator Ofgem has at least admitted that small businesses need more protection, but the OFT is apparently unconcerned about monopoly suppliers, imposed surcharges and falling trade margins.
The two cases are entirely different, but the general message is the same: as long as consumers are not being directly affected, then there is no need to act. In other words, the regulation industry, if I may call it that, exists to protect the public from small businesses, not to protect small businesses themselves.
But why should it be that a shopper entering your store has a state-appointed champion, but you don’t? Consumer protection is a good thing, but small business owners are consumers, too, so why should retailers have to jump through regulated hoops - pricing, labelling, food safety, fire, health & safety and so on - when serving the public, but face the Wild West when it comes to dealing with their own suppliers?
It’s time for action, not just on the specifics of protecting independent retailers, but in the whole culture of regulation itself. If the government is serious about letting local, entrepreneurial businesses drive the economic recovery, then it needs to appoint a champion with real power to properly take their side.