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Civil Service

The Red Tape Challenge

Sir Jeremy Heywood talking at DefraOn Monday (27 October) I attended an excellent event organised by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) where the department showcased its progress on meeting the government’s better regulation agenda.

The Red Tape Challenge

Key to this agenda is the Red Tape Challenge – an innovative cross-government programme to tackle the stock of unnecessary and over-complicated regulation, saving taxpayers money, and supporting economic growth by increasing business competitiveness.

In a great example of open policy-making in practice, the programme offered businesses and the general public the opportunity to challenge the government on regulation, and in January 2014 the Prime Minister announced that the government exceeded its target to identify 3,000 regulations to be scrapped or improved. The annual savings to business from the delivery of these reforms is over £850m.


Some reforms that have already been delivered by the programme include:

  • 36 million vehicles will no longer need a paper tax disc
  • £300m in annual savings to 100,000 small businesses from increased flexibility on audit requirements
  • Hundreds of live music and community events are now exempted from entertainment licensing between 8am and 11pm
  • £132m in annual savings to business by setting out clearer arrangements to remediate contaminated land

In order for the programme to reach its target, departments must work hard to deliver their outstanding reforms by the end of this Parliament – a large number of which are in the Deregulation Bill that is currently passing through the House of Lords.


DEFRA is at the forefront of the government’s regulatory reform agenda and is the single largest contributor to the Red Tape Challenge, owning a quarter of all the reform proposals and delivering £300m savings to business per year. DEFRA is also leading the way in the Civil Service’s approach to reforming guidance. DEFRA is reforming 120,000 pages of guidance, aiming to reduce this by at least 80% within this Parliament, making it radically clearer, easier and quicker for people to know what they have to do.

Photo of Lorraine Horwood, Vicky Clarke and Dawn Woodward stall showed how DEFRA is reducing regulatory burdens on farmers.
Lorraine Horwood, Vicky Clarke and Dawn Woodward stall showed how DEFRA is reducing regulatory burdens on farmers.

DEFRA has put in place ambitious targets which aim to reduce the number of regulations by 20%. By spring 2015 they are aiming to deliver:

  • An online system which has eliminated the need for 23 million paper waste transfer notices produced each year
  • £29m saved annually by applying new risk based advice on removal of asbestos from second-hand goods
  • Nearly £20m in annual savings through improvements to the licenses managed by the Marine Management Organisation

I was proud to see the progress that DEFRA has made so far and I look forward to seeing their progress in tackling their remaining regulations, which will result in more accessible, understandable, and business-friendly government policy.

More Information

Further information on Red Tape Challenge reforms can be found on the programme’s website:

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1 comment

  1. Comment by John posted on

    Interesting article...
    Perhaps we could launch our own internal "Red Tape Challenge", and remove the ridiculously over-complicated PMR system, freeing up the staff to do the work they are employed to do.
    Purely in monetary terms, regarding staff time saved, I'm sure this would dwarf the 49 million saved above.