Enterprising Regulation? Workshop
8 November 2013, Kingston Business School
A wide range of participants attended a joint workshop hosted by the Centre for Small Business
Research Centre (SBRC) and the ERC on “Enterprising Regulation?” The event took place on
8 November at Kingston Business School. The workshop was attended by regulatory bodies,
academics and business owners and policy officers.
Prof Rob Blackburn, Director of the Small Business Research Centre (SBRC), welcomed
delegates and set out the agenda for the day.
Prof Mark Hart, Deputy Director of the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) set the scene with a
short presentation asking the question „What is the real „red tape‟ challenge?‟He set the agenda
for the discussions by outlining the need to understand the precise ways small business owners
and their management teams deal with the regulatory environmentand how this might inform the
rather simplistic popular discourse on the need to reduce red tape based on the assumption that
all regulation was perceived as a burden.
This was followed by a presentation from Dr John Kitching (SBRC, Kingston Business School)
entitled‘Burden or Benefit? The contradictory influences of regulation on small
businesses‟.He opened by reminding the audience that there was a large difference between
what business owners said about regulation and what type actually did about it. The presentation
focussed on the contradictory effects of regulation on small business –there was no single „small
business effect‟. Examples included:
• Enabling action – e.g. property rights & contract; regulation stabilises market agents‟
• Motivating action – minimal compliance or compliance plus
• Constraining action – substantive, administrative, psychological costs & burdens.
Managing these contradictory effects is the normal condition of doing business in the UK and all
regulatory interventions impact on small firms in multiple, contradictory ways.
Simon Down (IIMP, Anglia Ruskin University) presented a paper entitled „Strategic Adaptation of
Growing Firms to Regulation: a longitudinal analysis of the informality-formality span‟and
highlighted the following points:
The role of other voluntary Codes of Practice other than the formal regulatory environment -
e.g. procurement quasi-regulatory controls.
Physiological / emotional impact of enforcing regulation e.g. Employment Law, tribunals,
redundancies etc. – increasingly out-sourced to „take away the pain‟.
Sector specific issues – NHS, Pharmacology, security
Educational role of advisory bodies has widely disappeared.
Uneven enforcement, difference in levels of experience, approach, enforcement.
Regulators can do more in the space between the regulation per se and the response by
the small business owner.
Level of anxiety around regulation felt by business owners this fear of non-compliance often
leads to businesses employing expensive consultancies to support them.
Regulation Driving Business Growth – Case Studies (Ruth Ross MD of Building Trust In
Safety and Mark Ferron, MDCastle Associates).
This session commenced with two owners of growth-oriented small businesses introducing their
businesses and setting out some of the challenges they face. Much of the discussion focussed on
the anxiety owner managements feel around regulation. Mark identified that many SMEs don‟t
deal with issues as they arise or do no not how the necessary skills to deal with some of the
issues which places a burden on the business. He indicated that he had seen an increase in
outsourcing especially in HR.
They both recognised that regulation was not just a burden but also offered opportunities for
growth. However there is often a cost / resource implications which are difficult to measure.
Designing Better Regulation – Perspectives from BRDO
Erica Sheward, Policy Manager at the Better Regulation Delivery Office
Erica explained what the BRDO was - an independent unit in the UK Government Department for
Business, Innovation and Skills which is responsible for delivering the Government‟s commitment
to cut red tape, improve public protection and boost UK economy through better regulatory
Key messages in Erica‟s presentation were:
• „Good‟ regulation can support growth, as much as „poor‟ regulation hinders it
• How regulation is delivered (enforcement) matters
• Key aspects of delivery include
– Right level regulation-local/regional/national
– Hearing business as the „customer‟ of regulation.
Move towards „Risk Based‟ Regulation
• Strategic Risk – recognising emphasis from policy and statute
• Prioritisation – across markets and hazards
• Operational Risk Assessment – selecting optimum intervention strategies
• Risk-Based Targeting – maximising the value of inspection
• Sanctioning by Risk – ensuring a proportionate response.
Frank Peck (Centre for Regional Economic Development (CRED) University of Cumbria Business
School) presented a paper entitled „Business Perception of Regulatory Burden‟. He began by
outlining some recurring themes from the debate about the impact of regulation on small
Increasing complexity of regulatory landscape – multi-layered; state to non-state sources
Debate on the costs of regulatory compliance
Strategic significance of regulatory knowledge – compliance innovators
Debate concerning the nature of the “regulatory burden” – not the same as “cost”
But no substantive body of literature specifically on communication of regulation
Frank‟s review of the evidence, which was published as a BIS report in 2012, from surveys of
businesses in the UK conducted up to 2011 pointed to a perceived increase in the cost or burden
associated with compliance with regulation. Evidence also supports the conclusion that small
businesses experience greater regulatory burden. Other findings include:
Perception of regulatory burden has increased in the period associated with economic
downturn and squeezed profit margins.
Compliance with employment law and health and safety law generate the greatest amount
of time cost or “burden”.
Channels of communication are increasing in diversity.
Growth in consultancy and out-sourcing by large and medium-sized firms.
Most trusted sources for SMEs those involving face-to-face contact, regulatory visits,
friends, accountants, agency officials. Is this changing? – social networks, on-line “trusted”
SMEs tend to be reactive, whereas: larger firms more proactive.
Regulatory burden cannot simply be equated to measurable costs. It embraces other aspects such
as anxiety generated by the threat of litigation, uncertainty, the pace of change and sense of
inequity. The perception of the burden is influenced by the growing complexity of the regulatory
landscape, with businesses finding it difficult to distinguish between regulation that originates from
national government, international sources, industry self-regulation and business policies.
Communication about regulation is a complex social process where consumers of the message
(businesses) can become co-creators. There does not appear to be widespread misreporting of
regulatory requirements, but most media noise does relate to negative aspects of regulatory or
The final presentation was by Ian Vickers (CEEDR, Middlesex University Business School)who
presented a paper entitled „Enterprise Performance and „Decent Work‟: the case of
occupational safety and health (OSH)‟. The questions posed during the presentation were:
Is there a link between enterprise performance and good OSH provision in SMEs?
Under what circumstances is the „business case‟ for owner-managers to invest in OSH
What are the implications for policy and practice?
Small firms had what Ian described as „structures of vulnerability‟:
• Resource-constrained - less able/willing to invest in OSH measures
• Informal approaches to management
• Short-term planning and decision-making – esp. in highly cost-competitive conditions
• Often bottom of supply chain – disempowered/intense competition
• Low profile - little fear of lost business from adverse publicity / regulatory attention
• Worker insecurity+ lack of formal representative participation + growth of
outsourcing/precarious work and informal sector
In summary, the paper concluded that:
• OSH-BB link was shaped by competitive conditions in diverse regulatory/institutional
• Need for OSH interventions that are sensitive to the characteristics of enterprises and
• OSH-BB message needs to be developed alongside (rather than substituting for) effective
enforcement and sanctions to deter bad practice + support and encouragement for
Copies of the slides of all the presentations can be found on the ERC website. John Kitching and
Mark Hart will be preparing an ERC White Paper on the subject of “The Impact of Regulation on
Small Business Growth” in the first quarter of 2014.