As the nation lurches from crisis to crisis, one constant persists in the British government’s strategy: an unwavering commitment to drowning its problems in a sea of red tape. 

Whatever the issue of the day, the recurring theme appears to be: when in doubt, add more complexity. This reliance on bureaucracy raises a pressing question – is it a shield against chaos, or yet another obstacle to be overcome?

In the case of Net Zero, a report from Carbon Trust this week suggests that it’s most certainly the latter. Almost four in five UK businesses say they can’t afford to transition to Net Zero, and one in three say they are “paralysed” by the government’s targets. They fear that their approach will be deemed “wrong”, and so find themselves wasting time and resources with very little to show for it.

This is no surprise given British governments’ penchant for excessively complex and stringent regulation. The entire field of “social value” legislation – of which Net Zero is only one component – is characterised by extravagant yet poorly defined standards and requirements. The quintessential example of this (among stiff competition) is the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which forces businesses to deliver “social value” if they wish to do business with the government. Officially, these targets are a vague blend of climate commitments, fighting economic inequality, and promoting diversity and inclusion.

But like so much to do with ‘social justice’, it’s all hot air. No one is actually measuring the benefits delivered, or holding suppliers and subcontractors to account when it comes to the promised “social value” outcomes. It’s the perfect recipe for economic paralysis. And naturally, this hits SMEs hardest.

Wherever you stand on the issue of climate change, the ambition to build an economy which limits its impact on the beauty and prosperity of the natural world is noble. We humans are the stewards of this world, and it is our duty to ensure that it is well taken care of. With that said, the current approach employed by the managerial regimes in Britain and elsewhere are self-evidently ineffective and are, in fact, actively destructive. If our nation is to escape stagnation and decline, the approach to environmental policy must be rethought entirely – and nimble, innovative, locally-focussed SMEs must be at the tip of the spear.