For some British firms, red tape spreads from London, not Brussels

Mon Jun 6, 2016 2:55am EDT
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By William Schomberg

SITTINGBOURNE, England (Reuters) - Troy Barratt, a small business owner in this southeastern English town, has a list of labor, energy and safety regulations that add to the costs of his precision metal fabrication firm.

But unlike opponents of Britain's membership in the European Union, he puts the blame on London rather than Brussels.

"By far the biggest frustration I have is with home-grown laws," Barratt, managing director of Contracts Engineering, said as laser-cutting machines sliced into sheets of steel in his firm's workshop in an industrial park about 60 km (40 miles) east of London, close to the mouth of the River Thames.

Barratt, a 36-year-old former investment banker from the United States, points to a new UK pension contribution system for his 26 employees and duplicative checks on electrical equipment that advisors recommend he carry out in order to meet separate sets of British rules.

He also cites commercial power tariffs that are among Europe's highest because London raises extra tariffs to help fight climate change.

As the country prepares for a June 23 referendum on whether to leave the EU, the "Out" campaign says rules made in Europe jar with Britain's traditionally free-market approach to business, hurting profits and hobbling economic growth.

The growing weight of EU legislation represents a threat to the country's sovereignty, it says.

Yet many employers say it's British rules, coupled with the sometimes overly rigorous British implementation of EU rules, that are their main hindrance.    Continued...

Troy Barratt, Managing Director, poses at Contracts Engineering Ltd, a steel products manufacturer, in Sittingbourne, southeast England, Britain May 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor