News story

Letter from the Prime Minister on cutting red tape

Prime Minister David Cameron has written a letter to all government Ministers on the launch of the Red Tape Challenge and reducing the regulatory burden.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Read the letter

In our Foreword to the Coalition Programme for Government, the Deputy Prime Minister and I wrote that “there has been an assumption that central government can only change people’s behaviour through rules and regulations. Our government will be a much smarter one, shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past and finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.”

We need to tackle regulation with vigour both to free businesses to compete and create jobs, and give people greater freedom and personal responsibility. Of course we need proper standards, for example in areas like fire safety and food safety. So where regulation is well-designed and proportionate, it should stay. But it is hard to believe that we need government regulations on issues such as ice cream van musical jingles, or the display of bed prices. We know we have inherited far too much costly, pointless, and illiberal government red tape.

That’s why, since coming to office, the Government has pursued an ambitious deregulation agenda. This has included:

  • introducing a new one-in, one-out rule, meaning Ministers have to identify an existing piece of regulation to be scrapped for every new one proposed;
  • a strengthened role for the Regulatory Policy Committee to review the costs and benefits of new regulation proposals,
  • and a three-year moratorium on domestic regulation for very small firms and start-ups.

These things are about stopping unnecessary new regulations. But we also need to tackle the stock of existing regulation. Today, there are over 21,000 statutory rules and regulations in force, and I want us to bring that number - and the burden it represents - down.  Indeed, I want us to be the first government in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, rather than increasing it.

This is a bold ambition - and I am convinced we will only meet it if we try a new approach. Starting today we will publish, sector by sector, all existing regulations online at We will invite members of the public and interested parties to tell us which regulations:

  • should simply be scrapped;
  • have the right aim, but one which could be achieved without regulation;
  • could be made simpler, better designed, or consolidated with other regulations
  • could be implemented in a less burdensome way, or
  • are well-designed, good ones that should be kept.

In the past, when governments tried to deregulate, Ministers were asked to make the case for abolition. In other words, the assumption was that regulations should stay, unless there was a good case for getting rid of them. We are changing that presumption; we are changing the default setting.

Our starting point is that a regulation should go or its aim achieved in a different, non-government way, unless there is a clear and good justification for government being involved.  And even where there is a good case for this, we must sweep away unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity, end gold-plating of EU directives, and challenge overzealous administration and enforcement.

This marks a change from the old ways of doing things - and its success will depend on you and your department being fully behind this approach. So this is not a polite request to “reduce regulation if you can,” it is a change in approach that means Ministerial teams should see themselves personally accountable for the number of regulations contained within and coming out of departments, and the burden they impose. Be in no doubt: all those unnecessary rules that place ridiculous burdens on our businesses and on society - they must go, once and for all.

I look forward to welcoming rapid progress on this agenda in the months ahead. Make no mistake: this is essential work. It will help us build a more dynamic economy, and it will help to build a stronger society. Above all, it will help rebuild in our country the sense of responsibility that is so vital - and which has been so undermined by years of over-regulation.

I am copying this letter to all Government Ministers and Sir Gus O’Donnell is writing personally to all his Permanent Secretary counterparts, committing the civil service to make tackling unnecessary regulation a key priority for the whole of government.

Published 7 April 2011