Published on 17 December 2018
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Getting Regulation Right

Bennett Institute for Public Policy: Policy Brief

December 2018
By Martin Stanley with Julia Wdowin


Regulation is a vitally important policy instrument, shaping everyone’s lives every day, setting the rules of the game for businesses, making competition work effectively and ensuring consumer safety. And yet despite its crucial and positive role, it is often seen as an irritant and a source of restraint, widely labelled ‘red tape’. At the same time, there have been manifest regulatory and enforcement failures, leading to tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire, or devastating economic events such as the financial crisis. In recent years the number and impact of regulatory failures seems to have increased, perhaps due to the greater potential for systemic impacts in our connected, complex world. New technologies are both increasing the potential for systemic harms from regulatory failure – the financial crisis is a good example – and also making regulation far more challenging. Not the least part of this is the need to ensure algorithmic decisions leave scope for human judgement in finding the right balance in the enforcement of regulatory powers. It may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that regulatory failure – in particular the inadequate policing of the behaviour of large banks, corporations and public organisations – has contributed to the pervasive decline in trust in such entities.

For all these reasons, we are delighted to publish this Policy Brief by Martin Stanley, formerly Chief Executive of the UK’s Competition Commission and a distinguished senior civil servant. As well as authoring the well-known book How to be a Civil Servant, Martin now runs the Understanding Regulation and related websites []. There is nobody better placed to take a broad view of the challenges facing regulation today. This Policy Brief examines the recent history of regulation in the UK, but the lessons it draws are more widely applicable. Martin offers some powerful conclusions about the need for reform. He also points to gaps in the research agenda in this area, an issue we will be taking up here at the Bennett Institute.

Michael Kenny & Diane Coyle

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