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Sunday, September 12, 1999 Published at 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK

Business: The Economy

Red tape burdens industry

Smaller companies worry more about red tape

The amount of red tape is increasing, leaving firms with an ever greater administrative burden, according to a new survey by the Confederation of British Industry.

The survey shows that 85% of companies say the burden of red tape has increased in the past year, while only 0.2% say it has eased.

The biggest concern is the European Working Time Directive, which restricts working hours to 48 hours per week.

Over the summer Trade Secretary Stephen Byers seemed to have announced a relaxation of the guidelines for 'voluntary' overtime by white-collar workers, but on Sunday he said he may be reconsidering that decision - a course of action strongly urged by the trade unions, who begin their annual conference in Brighton this week.

Two-thirds of firms said some of their workers had signed individual opt-outs from the Working Time Directive.

Form filling

CBI Director-General Adair Turner said that the survey of 482 firms showed that they were worried about the impact of government bureaucracy on their business.

"This survey shows many firms are worried that they are spending too much of their time form filling or clock watching rather than actually doing business," he said.

"It is the most ill-thought out legislation, such as working time, that causes the biggest headaches," he added.

Other areas of concern were unfair dismissal, parental leave, maternity rights, and statutory trade union recognition.

Small firms were particularly concerned about the impact of parental leave, which gives workers the right to take up to 3 months of unpaid leave to deal look after their children in emergencies.

But there were few worries about the minimum wage, which has been set at a level of £3.60 per hour that is acceptable to most businesses.

Tory pledge

Tory leader William Hague meanwhile has pledged major reforms aimed at freeing businesses from as much government bureaucracy as possible.

"We are going to squeeze Whitehall regulators until the pips squeak," Mr Hague was due to to tell London's Chamber of Commerce.

The Conservatives would slap an annual budget on the amount of regulations government departments can levy on firms and then drive it down year after year.

Departments which exceeded the targets would be held accountable and could even be open to legal action from voters.

It is part of an initiative by Mr Hague to make government departments directly answerable to the electorate.

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