Threat to democracy

Key findings
  • ‘Better regulation’ is a little-known initiative limiting government power to pass laws restricting businesses
  • UK policy is being reshaped to prioritise private business interests, over public interests
  • It’s not too late for Europe to avoid repeating the UK’s worst mistakes

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Photo credit:   UK Parliament

October 12, 2015 // Written by:

Christine Berry, Senior Researcher & Programme Manager, Economy and Finance
Stephen Devlin, Economist, Natural Resources

‘Better regulation’ is a little-known but powerful initiative that affects us all: our safety, our environment, our health, our rights at work and our democracy. The term sounds innocuous, but in fact it has little to do with the quality of policy-making. The story of ‘better regulation’ is, first and foremost, a story of corporate capture.

In the name of ‘better regulation’, a large and unaccountable bureaucracy has been created with the express purpose of making it more difficult for government departments to pass laws which impose costs on businesses. This includes:

The combined effect has been profound. Important social protections have been watered down, such as workers’ protection from unfair dismissal and speed limits for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). Perhaps more significantly, the space for new initiatives has been dramatically curtailed, both by creating a deliberate chilling effect in the civil service and by delaying or blocking proposals that do surface.

All of this is justified by a narrative that incorrectly equates regulation with unnecessary red tape, and tells us that scrapping this pointless bureaucracy will be good for business, good for the economy, and good for us all. But this is deeply misleading.

At its heart, ‘better regulation’ is not about form-filling: it is about reducing all costs of regulation to the regulated. Almost any regulation worth having will carry such costs: for example, the minimum wage imposes costs on businesses by preventing unscrupulous employers from exploiting their workers through poverty pay.

The purpose of most regulation is to curtail private interests when they do not coincide with the public interest. ‘better regulation’ fundamentally undermines this purpose.
In this report, we show how:

‘Better regulation’ has passed under the radar for far too long. It is time for civil society to hold it to account. We recommend that:

Finally, we note that UK businesses and policy-makers have been instrumental in replicating this privatisation of policy-making at the EU level. But it is not too late for Europe to avoid repeating the UK’s worst mistakes. We hope that this report will act as a warning against following the UK example.

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