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Monday, 26 June 2023, Ciaran Donaghy
CIEH have expressed concerns with the UK Government’s Smarter Regulation proposals, calling them “deregulation via the backdoor”.
This follows the UK Government's recent publication of their ‘Smarter Regulation to Grow the Economy’ policy paper. The Government claim these proposals represent a new approach to regulation that will ‘deliver rules that are proportionate to the outcomes they are trying to achieve’ claiming that some of the ‘current regulatory standards inherited from the EU are based on an overly restrictive and often disproportionate interpretation of the precautionary principle’.
Going further, the Government states that the reforms will ‘end the default expectation of government departments that regulation is a first choice’, tasking government departments to come up with non-regulatory policy solutions before regulation is even considered. If regulation is to be considered as a policy option, it must ‘align with UK interests’ and will be subject to assessments as to its impact on business, trade, competition, and innovation.
CIEH are extremely concerned that these reforms appear to continue this current government’s deregulatory direction of travel, as demonstrated by their Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill. CIEH, alongside coalition partners, successfully campaigned against wholesale deregulation of retained EU law as sought by that Bill, yet the ‘Smarter Regulation’ proposals appear to seek the same deregulatory outcomes. This policy paper indicates that the Government appear to be seeking to significantly reduce regulatory burdens on business by weighing regulation against economic factors in a form of balancing act between public health protections on one side and economic benefits on the other.
CIEH urge the Government to abandon the narrative which pits ‘health vs wealth’, as it is clear that public health protections help rather than hinder a thriving economy. For example, air pollution costs the NHS £1.6bn annually, work-related accidents and ill health cost the UK £16.2bn in 2018/19, £3.2bn of which was borne by employers, while foodborne disease costs society approximately £9.1bn annually.
These proposals go even further, as government departments will also be subject to additional scrutiny in that they will have to provide clear justification as to why regulatory options are being pursued. The consequences of which may result in government departments not only having to make cost-benefit assessments on new regulations, but they must also justify the effectiveness of existing regulations in accordance with economic, rather than public health outcomes.
CIEH are concerned that amidst these challenges that government departments may divest regulatory responsibilities to local authorities, many of whom are already significantly under resourced. Such a move, without greater funding and resource capacity, would overstretch already overburdened local authorities.
CIEH will be making representations to the Government seeking clarification on how exactly it intends to implement these proposals in practice, what impact these proposals will have on regulations to protect public health, and to confirm whether these proposals are intended to result in the widespread removal of regulation.
Louise Hosking, Executive Director of Environmental Health at CIEH, said:
“We are extremely concerned that these proposals effectively amount to deregulation via the backdoor.
Following the Government’s recent attempts at forcing through wholesale sunsetting of regulations vital to protecting public health in the form of the REUL Bill, it appears as if this government’s deregulatory direction of travel is continuing unabated.
CIEH regulatory members working as EHOs in local authorities will potentially see an increased workload as a result of this. CIEH members working inside organisations will be navigating this on the basis of corporate risk and will be concerned this represents a lowering in standards when we know good health is good for society and therefore our economy.
We will be proactively engaging CIEH expert Advisory Panels to robustly guide our approach and will be making urgent representations to the Government seeking clarification on these concerning proposals.”