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Government backs the Better Regulation Commission's call for a more rational approach to risk

23 January 2007
BRC07/01

The government today announced its acceptance of recommendations made in the Better Regulation Commission (BRC)'s report 'Risk, Responsibility and Regulation - Whose risk is it anyway?' (October 2006). In response to the report, it agreed today that it will take action to ease regulation where possible, embed risk management in training for Ministers and senior officials and conduct a campaign against regulatory inconsistencies and absurdities.

Speaking at an IPPR event today (Tuesday 23rd January 2007) held to announce the government's acceptance of the BRC's recommendations, Pat McFadden, the Cabinet Office Minister, outlined what the government would be doing in response to the report. The government agrees with the BRC that trying to eradicate risk completely is unrealistic and often undesirable and that risk needs to be managed in a sensible and proportionate way. The departmental response states: 'The Government accepts and agrees that the management and handling of risk must be undertaken in a sensible and proportionate way, separating emotion from fact when explaining and managing risks. It also agrees with the Commission that zero risk is unattainable and indeed is in many cases undesirable. It is essential that any intervention and regulation is light touch whilst upholding the protection of the interests it seeks to serve. The Government will seek to articulate the acceptable levels of risk in society below which it will not intervene to improve outcomes. Where intervention takes place, the Government will seek to be clear about its purpose; the risk to be managed; the costs, trade-offs and options considered; and how desired outcomes will be achieved.'

BRC Chair, Rick Haythornthwaite, speaking at the same event, said:

'We are delighted that the government has today agreed to take the lead in fostering a more challenging approach to deciding which risks should be managed by government on behalf of society and, by implication, where regulations may have become unnecessarily restrictive or ineffective.

'The consequences of trying to regulate all risks are damaging. Our sense of community and responsibility are undermined; we look to blame others if something goes wrong; regulations designed to control the exceptions end up burdening the whole; and, as a nation, we become increasingly risk averse.

'Our report ignited a much needed and long overdue debate amongst very disparate groups all over the country. It was referred to in debate in the Commons last week and its conclusions supported by Jack Straw. 'Whose risk is it anyway?' struck a chord with a great many people who believe that increasing risk aversion is an undesirable trend which can be halted. Today's positive response from government is a very important first step in that process.'

Mr Haythornthwaite went on to describe how we as a nation have developed a disproportionate attitude to risk, which distorts the way we understand, talk about and respond to it. We increasingly press government to rapidly intervene to manage all risks, based on unbalanced or incomplete debate, leaving us bemoaning the implications of the consequent regulations. Although we are all complicit in creating this disproportionate approach - the media, pressure groups, individuals and politicians - the BRC is pleased that the government has accepted the assertions in its report which called for:

The government has accepted all but one of the recommendations - to establish a Fast Assessment of Regulatory Options (FARO) panel, to act as an impartial space where calls for government interventions could be examined. The government believes that the advice by experts such as the Chief Scientific Advisors allows for objective scrutiny, yet this could be improved by utilising the expertise of the BRC.

In response, Mr Haythornthwaite said:

'The outcome sought by the BRC through our suggestion of a FARO panel is an evidence-based, dispassionate and reasoned reaction to calls for urgent government intervention. It is the outcome that matters most, not the process to achieve it. I understand the government's stance here but we will monitor such instances carefully and raise the issue again should we feel it necessary.'

Summary of recommendations:

Full list of recommendations p38 - 50 of the report http://publications.brc.gov.uk/publication_by_year.asp?PublicationYear=2006

Notes to editors:

See below for background to The Better Regulation Commission.For requests for interview, copies of Mr Haythornthwaite's speech, the report and/ or photographs of Rick Haythornthwaite please contact Compass Rose & Co Sue Youngman 07768 283 162 or Caroline Corfield 07979 706 553.

The Better Regulation Commission (http://www.brc.gov.uk)

  1. The Better Regulation Commission is an independent body that advises the Government on action to reduce unnecessary regulatory and administrative burdens and to ensure that regulation and its enforcement are proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted'.
  2. The work of the Better Regulation Commission includes:
    • Challenging departments and regulators to ensure that regulation and its enforcement accord with the five Principles of Good Regulation. These are proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency and targeting.
    • Vetting plans from departments and regulators to reduce administrative burdens.
    • Scrutinising progress by Departments and regulators to reduce wider regulatory burdens, including use of alternatives and deregulation.
    • Investigating specific regulatory and policy issues and making recommendations to Government through published independent reports. The Prime Minister has asked Ministers to respond to Commission reports within 60 days of publication
    • Working with business and other external stakeholders in EU Member States, and the EU institutions, to support the 'Six Presidency' initiative on better regulation in Europe.
  3. The scope of the work carried out by the Commission covers the private, public and voluntary sectors and EU regulatory issues.
  4. The Better Regulation Commission decides for itself its ways of working and its work programme, although it is expected to produce an annual report on its work.

Full Commission membership as of 1 April 2006: