Paul Scully – 2021 Statement on Covid-19 Business Regulatory Easements

The statement made by Paul Scully, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 19 July 2021.

The challenges faced by the UK, and other countries across the world, since the pandemic began have been substantial and many businesses have experienced unprecedented disruption. In the face of the threat of the virus the Government acted rapidly to provide support to protect businesses, individuals and public services across the UK, and have adapted their economic response as the pandemic has evolved. Our plan for jobs has supported jobs and businesses with over £400 billion of economic support, from generous employment support schemes to tax cuts, deferrals, loan schemes and cash grants.

Alongside financial support, the Government took the extraordinary step of temporarily relaxing a wide range of rules and regulations to make it easier for businesses to continue working through the disruption caused by covid-19. These easements cover a variety of areas, including capacity market easements, competition, and the suspension of liability for wrongful trading, among others.

As we have successfully progressed through the stages of the road map we have reduced many of the restrictions that have been in place over the last 15 months. And the progress we have made on the road map means that many of the rules that were relaxed can be reinstated.

While the phenomenal vaccine roll-out has offered every adult some protection against the virus, and the crucial link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is weakened, the global pandemic is not over yet, and cases are currently rising across the UK. This means that vigilance must be maintained and people will be asked to continue to act carefully to manage the risks to themselves and others. There will still be high levels of infection and illness and therefore disruption to lives, businesses and the economy.

We are therefore retaining or extending some of the regulatory easements. This is necessary where they continue to provide flexibility to businesses while they feel ongoing impacts from covid-19, including on workforce absences, and where relaxed rules will enable them to recover, helping to reinvigorate the high street and boost consumption.

We will be publishing the details on the easements that will expire or be retained on shortly.

The relaxation of these rules will be reviewed again in autumn at which point the Government will consider the status of these measures for further extension, permanent retention or expiry.

Ministers will continue to review the measures at regular intervals as needed thereafter to provide certainty to business and ensure that the appropriate regulatory environment is in place as required. A separate process is being taken forward for the measures protecting businesses from eviction, insolvency and debt recovery, which has been outlined in an oral statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on June 16.

Better regulation framework impact assessments

The Government introduced a significant amount of emergency legislation responding to covid-19 and we recognise that there may be a risk that current better regulation framework requirements might lead to disproportionate administrative burdens on Government Departments, particularly on the retrospective validation of temporary emergency legislation that is extended to be in force for 12 months or more.

For emergency covid-19 legislation which is exempt from the business impact target (BIT) under the “civil emergencies” exemption we have decided to relax the administrative requirements set out in the better regulation framework for full impact assessments to be undertaken and scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC). This relaxation of the policy requirement covers time-limited measures only. As a matter of policy under the framework, impact assessments are still expected for other emergency measures which are not temporary, even if they are non-qualifying measures under the “civil emergencies” exemption, and so not legally required to be supported by an impact assessment. Such impact assessments are to be submitted to the RPC in the normal way. The statutory requirement for measures exempted in this way from legal requirements for IAs to be verified as such by the RPC remains.

This adjustment of requirements will remain in place in advance of the wider reform of the better regulation framework completing.