Belfast Telegraph

Ministers criticised as plastic bag charge used to calculate red tape cost cuts

Ministers have been accused of "creative accounting" in an attempt to meet the Government's target for reducing the cost of red tape to business by £10 billion.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said ministers had only been able to claim any progress towards their 2020 goal by counting the 5p plastic bag charge as a "saving" because of the income it generated for retailers.

"The Government's limited progress so far relies, ironically, on the imposition of a new regulation requiring larger retailers to charge customers 5p for plastic bags," the committee said.

Without the inclusion of the charge, the committee said the net cost of regulation to business would actually have increased since the start of the parliament in 2015.

The committee chair, Meg Hillier, said the Government's "inventive" way of recording the plastic bag charge could not conceal a "disappointingly slow start" towards cutting regulatory costs.

"This high-profile piece of new regulation is being counted as a saving while a swathe of other regulations, expected to cost businesses billions of pounds, is omitted from the calculations," she said.

"It is tempting to say 'You couldn't make it up', but clearly you can - and then enshrine it in the implementation of Government policy.

"If this appears to be a piece of creative accounting designed to present a more favourable bottom line, then business isn't buying it."