The Red Tape Challenge is in full swing. The Government is asking the public to come up with ideas for repeal or reform in areas as varied as Sunday Trading, consumer products, health and safety, road safety and equalities legislation. The website starts off with a defence of the importance of good regulation and those leading the exercise insist that it is not biased against regulation. But 'red tape' is a loaded term and the clear motivation is to get the public to help Ministers where the bureaucrats have failed – to identify candidates for the bonfire of regulation.
'Environmental protection is not red tape'
In practice, the response is interestingly more diverse. For example, over 1000 responses have come in to the environment challenge – a major potential source of burdens on business. We analysed 200 of those 1000 responses and split them into five categories: those who wanted to maintain current regulations; those who wanted to strengthen existing regulations; those who saw some scope for streamlining – rationalisation but often accompanied by more effective enforcement; those who did what the government was expected and suggested some specific ideas for repeal. Below is the breakdown of that sample:
[caption id="attachment_5" align="aligncenter" width="529" caption=" Figure 1: 80% of the respondents wanted to maintain or strengthen existing environmental regulation"]
On the specific proposals, the top issue for change, supported by 3% of respondents, is to repeal the Climate Change Act – a flagship policy supported by the Prime Minister (and as our policy reunion showed – an initiative which he made possible in Opposition). The other ideas may contain some possibilities for action – but the definition of captive birds of prey under animal health legislation or changing the rules on energy performance certificates for caravans are quite minor; there may be more potential impact in proposals on environmental permitting and strategic environmental assessments.
Taking it at face value?
On the face of it, these results are a wake-up call for deregulators. The impact is slightly diminished by the recognition that the wording of many of the pro-regulation comments are recommended by the campaign group 38 degrees who led the charge against the Government’s policy on forest sales.
Reaching parts normal consultation doesn’t reach?
In other areas the Government is getting a more positive and potentially more useful response. For example, the just launched, health and safety RTC shows an emerging view on too much detailed regulation of 'low risk' workplaces. And the RTC on retail and hospitality does seem to be having some success in reaching parts of the economy eg small bed and breakfast operators who do not normally respond to consultation. But the final list of retail changes looked thin – a repeal of cluttering out of date laws rather than major deregulation – and Ministers are discovering a lot of seemingly obscure red tape is there for a reason.
But risking polarisation?
In other areas, the effect of the challenge has been to draw up battle lines. On Sunday trading there was a clear split between those who want to liberate the nation to shop all day and those who want to protect shopworkers from the need to work Sundays and the government decided to do nothing. The road safety road challenge lays bare the conflict over share of the road between motorists and cyclists. A better process would get both sides to try to reach common ground through some sort of deliberation – an issue we looked at recently at the Institute.
Effective policy making?
The jury is yet out on how effective this particular form of open source policy making is. Finding ways of reaching those who don’t engage in normal consultations is a promising start. But the real test is whether this opens up significant new possibilities for policy which the Government acts on – or if it deters Government from making changes where public feeling runs strongly.