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On taking office as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown committed to taking the Better Regulation agenda to a new level by focusing upstream at where policy-making engages with risk. This is the critical starting-point of the regulatory process. It is here that culture and process must achieve a better understanding of public risk:
“The Government believes that policy-making would benefit considerably from a fuller and more rounded consideration of public risk. I have asked the Better Regulation Commission, building on its report 'Risk, Responsibility and Regulation', to devise a structure and approach that ensures that this ambition is embedded in real policy action, even when facing pressures to react to events.”
The BRC rose to the challenge of another strategic step change in dealing with regulation with their report 'Public Risk - The Next frontier for Better Regulation'.
When should the state manage a risk on behalf of everyone through regulation and when should another body or individuals themselves be allowed to manage the risk? This basic question lies at the heart of much regulation and a failure to get the balance right leads to burdensome and resented restrictions on freedoms. They may be laughable – packets of peanuts carrying the warning “may contain nuts” – or may carry serious unintended consequences as in the aftermath of the Hatfield train crash. It is partly an issue of better policy-making and partly a more mature dialogue with the public on what really needs to be done whenever “something must be done”.
The structure the BRC recommended was a new independent advisory body, the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council. The approach was to work with the decision-makers on a special choice of topics in the form of experiential learning, moving away from the former model of published reports and recommendations. Each topic would have a Risk and Regulation Forum convened as an action learning set of all those principally involved in the design of the regulatory policy – Ministers, senior officials and external stakeholders – facilitated by experienced coaches. Over time, the lessons from each topic would be uncovered, analysed and passed on for future benefit. The RRAC would also start to address the public’s appetite for risk – trying to unpick the frequent dilemmas between a desire for protection but a rejection of nannying. The RRAC would aim to be the voice of reason, offering a more responsible alternative to whatever the clamour of the crisis may be demanding.
The government responded to the recommendations in the report with the following remit:
The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council is a new advisory group, charged by the Prime Minister with:
Ministers may also seek advice on particular issues from time to time
“The issue of public risk is one of the most challenging areas of policy-making for any government. I have asked the Risk and Advisory Council to provide a catalyst for the change we need in the way policy is developed across all departments. I am please to offer my support to the Council as they embark on their work to improve public policy making.”
The following statements of support have been received:
“I am pleased to welcome this important initiative in which the TUC will be fully involved. Effective regulation is a hallmark of any civilised society that protects the weak and vulnerable against the strong and powerful, but it is also important to get the right balance between risk. regulation and liberty. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council will be well placed to assist in improved policy making and better understanding of risk and regulation.”
“The root causes of red tape and excessive regulation are often to be found in poorly understood notions of public risk, and in a culture of policy-making that calls for instant action in the face of a tragic event or a perceived threat. The proposed Risk and Regulation Advisory Council should provide a neutral forum where evidence-based analysis and processes could lead to better policy outcomes. As such, it is a very welcome initiative.”
“Effective regulation demands real understanding of how organisations and individuals behave and a shared approach to the management of risk. I welcome the creation of the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, as a way of creating a new, more open debate about how our society should handle the risks we all face every day. The National Consumer Council looks forward to contributing to the work of this important body.”
The RRAC will initially consist of seven people RRAC members, including the Chair, Rick Haythornthwaite, drawn from the pool of strategic regulatory experience in the Better Regulation Commission. They will be supported by a team reporting to Vicky Pryce, Joint head of the Government Economic Service and Director General, Economics at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The RRAC will report back on progress to the Prime Minister but will report more frequently to John Hutton, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Before getting under way, the RRAC will:
For illustration, topics under consideration include:
If you have any questions or suggestions for the future agenda of the RRAC, please contact us at:
Risk and Regulation Advisory Council
1 Victoria Street
Telephone 020 7215 1611