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Sarah Green column

What are the chances that a pensioner who has used the same bank for 20 years is a criminal, or that a seven-year- old is wilfully committing ID fraud?

What are the chances that a pensioner who has used the same bank for 20 years is a criminal, or that a seven-year- old is wilfully committing ID fraud?

As any parent who has tried to open a savings account for their child might recognise, dealing with the unexpected side-effects of money-laundering laws can be frustrating.

While created with the best of intentions, these one-size-fits-all rules are smothering product development as banks and building societies respond by moving towards a standardised customer proposition.

Nobody dares innovate because, perversely, it has become too risky. The Better Regulation Commission last week launched a report calling for a rethink on our national approach to risk. It finds that Britain has become over defensive and disproportionate in managing uncertainty.

A real or perceived threat gets hammered with regulation. The report concludes that Britain's inability to accept more personal responsibility for risk is endangering its enterprise, competitive edge and "sense of adventure".

We no longer manage risk; we try to eradicate it.

Companies are finding that a growing culture of risk aversion is being appeased with lopsided laws that, however well-intended, can never cover all eventualities.

Poor regulation stifles innovation, creativity and investment, distorts markets and leads to weaker performance and a shrinkage of choice. Take the Working Time Directive, which seeks to cap the working week at 48 hours.

While the law controls unacceptable dangers, such as airline pilots or lorry drivers working too many hours, it hampers flexibility in situations where there is little risk.

It is simply ridiculous to deny an office worker the choice of putting in extra hours to meet a big order or simply to boost his wages.

The consequence of trying to legislate against every conceivable risk has been a generation of employers too fearful of litigation to give their line managers the freedom to innovate. For many, centralisation, form-filling and stagnation have become the norm.

Businesses must not be cast as the villain to be regulated against. Otherwise Britain will be left behind by those that take a more adventurous approach. Surely that is a greater risk.

Sarah Green is regional director of CBI North East

 

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