REBEL project

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The project was funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) from 2009 to 2012.

Project team:

Prof Simon Down
Prof Jane Pollard
Paul Richter
Prof Monder Ram

Project synopsis

Regulation: How do small firms deal with regulatory changes on a day to day basis?

Prof Simon Down said:

"Regulation shouldn't be seen as only a burden; it can be a core competency of a professionally managed business that adds real value."


The purpose of the REBEL project is to investigate and analyse how firms deal with regulation on a daily basis with the purpose of alleviating widespread concerns about regulation on small firms; most statistical surveys suggest that the regulatory burden for small firms is too high. Yet, previous research has exposed some key gaps in contemporary understandings of how small firms internalise and respond to regulation.


  • explore the temporal and spatial dynamics of how small firms receive, understand and respond to regulatory change
  • critically assess the processes by which small firms receive, understand and respond to different forms of regulatory change.


The project worked intensively with 12 high-growth firms in the North East and East Midlands in the environmental services, bio-pharma, media and security sectors over three years analysing the temporal and spatial dynamics of small firm regulatory behaviour.

Key findings:

  • Regulation is not just a burden
  • Sector specific regulation creates business opportunities
  • Some growth-oriented firms see sectorally-based regulation as market creating: regulation is their business model
  • Managing regulation can tell the market that your company is not a 'cowboy' business
  • High growth and well-managed regulation go together
  • Employment regulations can, sometimes, assume the worst behaviour
  • Employment regulations create overly legalistic working environments
  • It is not just government regulations: financiers and corporations also set rules that create burdens for small firms
  • Small firms help shape regulation by lobbying regionally, nationally and internationally
  • Growth-orientated firms use regulation as a way of formalising and professionalising; adopting the spirit, not just the letter of the law
  • Firms create their own internal regulations, codes of practice and the like
  • Compliance with regulation demonstrates legitimacy and status in product market/sector
  • Managing regulation can be outsourced
  • It is difficult employees that are the problem not the legislation
  • Better managed companies do not see regulation as a problem
  • Websites (sectoral associations/government), informal networks, big competitors all help in navigating the regulatory landscape
  • Firms often help end-users understand regulation
  • Rate of change and durability of policy generates uncertainty

The formal period of research and funding for the project ended in June 2012.