Out of the tick-box

20th May 2011


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IEMA

IEMA's Martin Baxter argues the Cabinet Office's red tape challenge fails to consider the relationship between business and the environment.

Cutting red tape and removing a tick-box culture to inspection was the mantra of the new coalition government when it came to power. Did it sound fresh and new? At first glance, yes. But on reflection all governments seem to start off with this rallying cry only to get tied-up in the red tape they’re trying to undo.

The Red Tape Challenge from the Cabinet Office is the latest initiative to “ease the regulatory burden”, providing an opportunity for people to identify the regulations they believe should stay, be merged, or scrapped.

The intention is that ministers and government officials will use this feedback to help them “cut the right regulations in the right way”.

Regulations to protect the environment feature as one of six cross cutting themes (along with health and safety and employment law) and all 278 environment regulations are listed. It won’t come as a surprise to environment professionals that environmental laws are most numerous and the list includes the Climate Change Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act, for example.

At the same time, the enhanced powers of the Whitehall Regulatory Policy Committee, a key mechanism for policing the one-in one-out rule, is choking off new regulations. Its recent report judged that over 40% of regulatory impact assessments weren’t fit-for-purpose.

Its simplistic approach to cost-benefit analysis, whereby only direct costs and benefits are counted, mean that any indirect benefits that are likely to accrue don’t get taken into account. So for mandatory greenhouse gas reporting for example, the direct costs of reporting aren’t considered in the context of the indirect benefits of enabling emissions reduction and cutting costs.

Meanwhile, work is also underway to pilot the use of third parties to undertake the work of regulatory inspectors for IPPC sites and sites with waste management licences.

So lots of activity, but I can’t help thinking that this won’t add up to very much in practice. The piecemeal approach of taking one regulation at a time is being undertaken in the absence of a vision on the relationship between business and the environment, and the role (both the strengths and limitations) of regulation and other policy levers in striking the right balance in that relationship.

Of course, it would be one thing to articulate a clear vision, quite another to work through the detail, particularly as much environmental regulation has its origins in Europe. But the government’s approach is one that starts with the detail, meaning that the red tape is already tying it up in knots. Hence, while Defra tries to “bust the myth” that the Climate Change Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act might be scrapped, the department hasn't actually said that they won’t be.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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