David Cameron has told the cabinet that a series of blockages, ranging from restrictive planning laws to the “gold-plating” of EU directives, are holding back economic growth.
In a sign of the government’s nerves about Britain’s slow rate of economic growth, the prime minister devoted almost the entire cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discussing the implemention of last year’s growth plan. This was published alongside the budget last March.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It was an unusual cabinet today in that it essentially had one item on the agenda which was economic growth. Rather than being a policy discussion this was a discussion about implementation and removing blockages to delivery.”
George Osborne, who will deliver his third budget on 21 March, led the discussion which identified three key areas which are slowing growth:
• Regulation, including the gold-plating of EU directives.
• Over-restrictive planning laws.
• Finance for business as the world copes with what No 10 described as an “impaired banking system”.
As banks rebuild their capital positions, the amount of credit feeding into the economy has slowed. Osborne will give an update on his plans to address this through credit easing.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “It is very easy for governments to unveil and announce new policy initiatives. What is much more difficult is implementation. Some of the issues that are being addressed through the plan for growth and were discussed at cabinet today – the weight of regulation on businesses, the problems with the planning system, the tendency for EU directives to be gold plated in the way they are implemented in this country – are issues that have been long debated and looked at by successive governments. But they require real political will and pressure to make a difference.”
The spokesman said ministers would be urging officials to challenge a tendency to “err on the side of caution” and to take a more pragmatic approach to EU directives. Ministers believe officials have a tendency to over-interpret the measures and to place overly restrictive burdens on business when they introduce them in the UK.
“We are certainly concerned about the level of regulation and the impact of regulation on businesses,” the spokesman said. “By having a one in, one out policy on regulation we are seeking to bear down on the level of regulation whether it comes from Brussels or Westminster.”
The special cabinet session shows ministers are nervous about the slow recovery. While ministers believe the government has won reasonable support for cutting the deficit, there are concerns that Labour is winning a hearing for its charge that the coalition has an inadequate plan for growth.
The spokesman said: “[We are] sticking firmly to our plans to reduce the deficit but it also means a relentless focus on growth and measures to support growth. There has been good progress on implementing the measures set out in the plan for growth a year ago. But today was an opportunity to see where we can move faster on implementation and see where we can push forward even faster.