Tuesday 26 April 2011

Is the environment just “red tape” to business?

Taking a look at regulation to see if there is anything that can be rationalised is, perhaps, not a bad thing in itself. I don’t like the pandering to popular paranoia that seems to underpin the exercise, as I said in my last blog; however it might be argued that regulation does bare re-examination from time to time.

What is more, DEFRA has now written a “mythbuster” claiming that the aim is not to scrap important environmental regulations (http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/04/24/myth-bust-red-tape-challenge/). I am not sure how convincing this is. If this is the case then why are the very regulations that the DEFRA mythbuster claims will not be removed listed in the public consultation? If DEFRA sets hares running by listing environmental regulation that could get a shake up then it should not be too surprised when it gets a firm response from the public. This is not myth busting, it is public consultation and I thought that was the idea.

However, there is something more worrying underneath this exercise. Department sources are again saying things like they’ve “got to look at things from both sides…”. They don’t wish to “side” with either the environment or business and are implying that sustainable development is about balancing the environment with business and society. This is an attempt to change a 25 year old definition of sustainable development which seems to be going almost unnoticed. Sustainable development is about delivering win-win-win solutions, delivering environmental, economic and societal objectives together in a mutually supportive way. The nature of the discussion at the moment implies that environmental regulation has gone too far and needs to be brought back under control so that poor old business has a chance to thrive again. This is a 1960’s approach. In the 21st century business will only thrive in a healthy, protected environment.

I also do not believe that businesses themselves wish to be stereotyped as inevitably a sector that wishes to throw-off environmental regulation, cast a blind-eye to any environmental damage and get on with the important work of making money. A high quality environment is now seen as a business asset (for instance boosting house values, attracting inward investment and keeping good staff) and there is an increasing number of studies that show how a high quality environment and a stimulated economy go hand in hand. See for example Ruth Chambers’ (Council for National Parks) blog (http://parkcampaigner.wordpress.com/) for a couple of examples of how good regulation in National Parks has stimulated the economy, not held it back.

So – presumptions about environmental regulation constraining and acting as a burden on business should not be the background to any review. A sensible review should be more open ended, should not start with the expected answer (slash red tape) and may indeed find that we need more environmental regulation not less.

If you are worried about this you may wish to consider signing the 38 degrees petition: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/dont-scrap-environment-laws#petition, as well as making comments on the DEFRA web site: (http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/environment/).

Thursday 21 April 2011

Red Tape Challenge?

It sounds so popular. The “burdens” of red tape must be challenged! In moments of paranoia we all like to imagine the armies of pen-pushers who like nothing better than to stop ordinary people from getting on with their everyday lives. No doubt there are dozens of newspapers where you can read all about this, and no doubt there are armies of people delighting at the fight-back against these “jobs-worths”.

But when you start looking at this presumed red tape then you have to ask questions about what we are being asked to dump and why.

Furthermore, I work a lot with government bodies and local authorities and I simply don’t recognise this description of bureaucrats battling against a downtrodden public. Regulations are generally there for a good reason and the people implementing them are trying to get good results in practical situations. Generally they are trying to protect (using regulations that are far too weak) all the things we want protected. At least that seems to be the case with the environment. The main problem is the weakness and inconsistency of regulations against the well-funded tide of pressures against the environment.

So up for grabs, along with anything else you can imagine (except tax laws, they, of course, are inviolate) are all the wildlife and environmental regulations. After decades of fighting to get some measure of defence for the environment on which we all depend, this is now just labelled as “red tape” to be dispensed with.

Rather than challenge presumed red tape perhaps we should challenge some of the attitudes behind this exercise. Since when has having a healthy environment been a “burden”? Why is it that wildlife, clean air, clear water, a pleasant place to live and an attempt to prevent climate chaos are now just “red tape”?

According to an article in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/apr/17/environment-green-laws-red-tape) a source said that government has a responsibility to business as well as those concerned about the environment. “Those concerned about the environment”!! It seems that government are portraying “those concerned about the environment” as some small special-interest minority. Both business and “those concerned about the environment” should be offended by this sort of attitude. Everyone (with any sense) is concerned about the environment, including business. Putting these on opposite sides of the fence seems to imply that government has given up any attempt to reconcile our economy with our environment.

Now the “onus” is on those wanting to keep regulations to make the case for keeping them, not on those wanting to get rid of them. Well, we’re talking of about 21,000 pieces of complicated policy and legislation. Yes its all up for public consultation, but have you got the time to go through all of it to say what you want to keep and why?

A response is clearly needed so in case you have got time to at least try to defend the 278 regulations that try to keep our environment habitable, here’s the link to the consultation: http://www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/environment/

Please do make some sort of response!