UK business stifled by obsession with ‘mindless’ red tape

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Digby Jones slammed the 'mindless culture' of red tape that threatened to blunt our ability to compete with China and India
Digby Jones slammed the 'mindless culture' of red tape that threatened to blunt our ability to compete with China and India

Related tags: Soft drinks, Soft drink

Businesses and government need to break down a regulatory culture where people “mindlessly follow” processes that don’t improve customer services or create wealth if the UK is to compete with India and China in the years to come, warns former trade minister Lord Digby Jones.

He told the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) annual lunch that there was a fixation with regulatory compliance in the UK business world that was stifling innovation and growth.

Jones, a former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, told guests in London: “This is absolutely one of the greatest problems your sector and wealth creators in general face. We are creating a world and people where the process is becoming more important than the end result.”

He said there was a prevailing culture stemming from regulations and red tape where adhering  to protocol and “following a script”​ meant that customers were not being treated well and new business ideas were being stifled.

China and India

If this persisted, he added, countries like China and India, “which either don’t have these rules, or if they do, they don’t follow them”,​ would flourish at the expense of the UK.

“This is what will become the death of this country – mindlessly and thoughtlessly following processes, without the thought of what it is trying to stop and what we are trying to achieve. We need to come up with innovative ways of doing things without damaging the spirit and flair we need to create the jobs, the wealth and the taxes we need.

“The business community could do with a little bit of help from the people we elect to serve us to help knock some of this down, because there is money to be made here. They need to be brave and courageous. If we fail, our kids will never forgive us.”

Jones also called on firms to do more with regard to training, claiming adult literacy levels in the country were far too low.

“Business is doing a lot, but it can do more. I’m not saying you should go into work tomorrow and say ‘hands up those of you who can’t read’,”​ he said.

“We need to make it easier for people to learn, tell them it is a computer course instead, but what we are actually doing through that is teaching them to read,”​ he added.

Public health challenges

Earlier at the event, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, BSDA president David Saint said the soft drinks industry was meeting its economic, environmental and public health challenges set by the government and the media “head on”.

“This doesn’t trouble us because we have the same ambitions ourselves,” ​he said, adding there had been many no or low-calories product launches and sustainability initiatives over the past year.

“We recognise our responsibility to the communities we serve,”​ he said.

“There are challenges, but we are continuing to meet them head on. We are making progress and we will continue to be clear about that with our critics.”

The 2013 UK Soft Drinks Report shows that soft drinks are consumed in more than 99% of households. The overall retail value of the soft drinks industry rose by 3.3% to nearly £15bn, last year.

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