Risk and Regulation Advisory Council

Frequently asked questions

The Ambition

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'.

Public Risk

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”.

Better conversations inside government / better dialogue with the public outside.

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 remit

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:

  • Working with Ministers and senior civil servants to develop a better understanding of public risk, and how best to respond to it, through a series of workshops which consider both good and poor practice
  • Working with external stakeholders to help foster a more considered approach to public risk and policy making

Ministers may also seek advice on particular issues from time to time

        In making the announcement, the Prime Minister said today:

“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:

        Brendan Barber, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress

“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.”

        Richard Lambert, Director General, CBI

“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.”

        Lord Larry Whitty, Chair, National Consumer Council 

“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

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.

The Forums

Before getting under way, the RRAC will:

  • identify, in liaison with Ministers, four topics to provide the basis of the Forums; and
  • identify and foster a broad network of people with expertise and interest in risk and regulation, from which to draw members of each Forum.

For illustration, topics under consideration include:

  • The public risk: Food and superbug scares
    The issue: Inconsistent, inaccurate and unsubstantiated presentation of these risks is leaving citizens concerned and confused. This, in turn, threatens to prompt kneejerk action from policy-makers. A more consistent and balanced approach to communication and building public understanding should be found.

  • The public risk: Animal disease outbreaks
    The issue: The best practice established by the Chief Veterinary Officer during the Foot and Mouth, Bluetongue and avian flu outbreaks in respect of communication, stakeholder involvement and risk management should be captured and disseminated

  • The public risk: Under-pensioned citizens
    The issue: The best practice established by Lord Turner’s Pensions Commission in respect of systemic, evidence-based investigation and the lessons learned from the contrast with previous interventions in this field, should be captured and disseminated

  • The public risk: Obesity
    The issue: The recent Foresight report has taken the debate and evidence gathering in respect of obesity to a systemic level. Policy makers will need to build on this positive start if the Government is to intervene appropriately and effectively in a complex behavioural issue such as this, in the face of normal pressures to act quickly. Engaging independent, external voices can improve the likelihood of successful intervention, by focusing support around clearly articulated objectives, enhancing the evidence base for decisions, increasing public understanding of the issues, improving the quality of proposed policy solutions, and establishing the right context for successful implementation. 

 

If you have any questions or suggestions for the future agenda of the RRAC, please contact us at:

Risk and Regulation Advisory Council

Bay LG78

1 Victoria Street

London

SW1H 0ET

Telephone 020 7215 1611

rrac@berr.gsi.gov.uk

 

Frequently asked questions