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The expression 'red tape' creates a visceral negative reaction, as if it was some sort of malign boaconstrictor. And yet, not only is the colour red generally pleasant, and tape pretty useful, but less figuratively we need some red tape to hold things together.

The expression 'red tape' creates a visceral negative reaction, as if it was some sort of malign boaconstrictor. And yet, not only is the colour red generally pleasant, and tape pretty useful, but less figuratively we need some red tape to hold things together.

On Monday morning, RSA hosted The Regulation for Regeneration Summit in conjunction with LBRO- the Local Better Regulation Office- to be pronounced 'El,bee,ar,oh!' rather than a lazy conflation of elbow and eyebrow.

For Connected Communities, one of the most important arguments to come out of this Summit was that regulation needs to be less about policing.  Rather, regulation should be reconfigured as first and foremeost being a driver of behaviour change.  To achieve this there appeared to be resounding sense that new locally-oriented and co-produced approaches to regulation need to be developed, as the following interviews recorded at the Summit show:

Regulation for regeneration: towards a new localism? from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.


By the time the Home Secretary began disclosing Government thoughts on immigration policy in the Great Room next door, the LBRO Summit in the Benjamin Franklin Room was well underway. The event was initially chaired by RSA Director of Research, Steve Broome, and latterly by Chief Executive Mathew Taylor. Key speakers included:

  • Chris Leslie, Director of The New Local Government Network;
  • David Frost, Director General of British Chambers of Commerce;
  • Clive Grace, Director of LBRO;
  • John Penrose MP, Shadow Minister for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform;
  • Cllr Merrick Cockell, Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and chairman of London Councils;
  • Cllr Stephen Houghton, Labour Leader of Barnsley Metroploitan Borough Council.
The distinguished panel included councillors, business leaders, environment agency executives and representatives from government departments.

What was at stake?

Regulation does not typically set your heart racing, but during an economic downturn, it can serve as the heart of the recovery. One participant referred to an interview with Lord Alan Sugar, who was asked what he felt about the role of business regulation. He replied that in his experience, most businesses were in favour of regulation for other businesses, but not for their own, which they felt didn't need it.

Businesses want to be relatively unencumbered to do whatever they need to in order to make the economy grow again, and employment law, business taxes, health and safety laws can get in the way of that. However, such regulation is also essential to protect people in the workplace. There is a need for consistency in regulation, so that people feel fairly treated, but also some flexibility so that regulation fits the needs of local businesses across diverse contexts.

To allow for a full and frank discussion, much of the discussion took place under chatham house rules, so what follows are a selection of (largely unattributed) themes ideas and quotes:

Chris Leslie on the role of the New Local Government Network: "We are the annoying mosquito biting the back side of the elephant"

There is typically a 2 year lag between recesssion and public service cuts- a public service 'tsunami' is about to hit us.

If a hung parliament arises, there is likely to be less emphasis on regulation, which is harder to pass, and more on behaviour change.

We are about to contend with an immoveable object of regulation (e.g. no compromise on health and safety) meeting an irresistible force(certainty of budget reductions obliging businesses to cut corners). How can regulation meet this pending challenge?

New model needed: light touch regulation, self-assessing, shift focus onto consumer/producer, slimline enforcement.

"There is a need to let enterprise run riot"

PR problem of business being associated with city fat cats, bonuses etc, but business is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Business should be seen as an integral part of the community, and behave in a way befitting this role.

Unsustainable to have growth in the public sector and loss in private sector.

But is the idea of mutual engagement of local government and business credible? One participant felt it was hard to believe because neither side sounded like they really believed it.

Too much emphasis on business and government. Need to remember the place of citizens- those who might be a business person, a consumer or an architect of community.

Quality of life linked to maximal engagement- people are clamoring for sense of what they can do together.

When improving regulation, need to focus on the real burden areas of employment law, taxes, and health and safety, and not the more peripheral issues that would be easier to amend.

John Penrose presented his "fairly green-tinged" policy paper: Regulation in a post-bureaucratic age

LBRO: Regulation can have collateral benefits to small businesses that need to recognised.

Regulation should be outcome-based- it should focus on principles, and recognise that the detail can vary.

Need for three-way co-regulation between regulators, businesses and consumers.

Mathew Taylor: the conundrum underlying the discussion is the tension between flexibility and consistency. On this point, one participant later responded: "One person's local autonomy is another's uneven playing field."

Another remarked that regulation should be both horizontally and vertically consistent, and that the government placed too much emphasis on the latter.

Wedge reward card being trialled in Kensington and Chelsea.

Towards the end, Mathew Taylor reiterated that the RSA was focused on actions, and wanted to know whether or not a fora existed for getting businesses, regulators, government and consumers together to discuss how to coordinate their actions. The RSA might have a role to play in this regard.

Some suggested that in old manufacturing and mining tows, the spirit of entrepreneurship was relatively underdeveloped. One participant remarking:

"The last thing you needed down a mine was an entrepreneur."


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