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Is regulation breaking UK plc?

Regulatory comment for financial advisers

22 Apr 2014

Regulation, we are told, is a vital part of society, it is local, national, European and some cases global yet despite it ever invasive, viral presence in UK society it seems that the more we regulate the worse it gets.

And the regulator in just about every case will claim it is not their fault. 

Regulators raison d’être is to ensure that consumers are protected at all times, sometimes in every possible way verging on protection from themselves.

But regulation is self-perpetuating, a real life version of perpetual motion that pays a lot of money to those for whom that career path is chosen. For example, over the past decade, the average pay per employee at the FSA was around £78,000.

We all know about the failures of regulation in financial services, but would UK plc and its population (now commonly referred to as ‘vulnerable consumers’, ‘stressed commuters’, ‘long suffering motorists' or ‘hard working families’) be better off as a result of much reduced regulatory action. Or see it replaced with that all important mix (of fast diminishing human attributes that regulation has rendered idle) common sense, caveat emptor and intuitition?Here is just a sample selection of regulators, where I think many reading this would see confusion, failure, cover ups, unintended consequences and huge spends seeing zero benefit for everyone except those that work in regulation.

There are many, many more. 

Electricity regulation: OFGEM is the regulator; their strap line is “making a positive difference for energy consumers”. Deregulation and creating free markets (that in fact now need all this regulation) or the failure of regulators to keep up with fast-moving markets, can become unbelievably costly, as we can all now see. The worldwide electricity sector reforms of the early 1990s have revealed the complexities of introducing market driven reforms and making them work in network and infrastructure industries.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier?

Gas regulation: OFGEM again. Ofgem found British Gas incorrectly blocked businesses from switching and failed to give some businesses notice that their contract was due to end. The fine was £5.6m, but really just another large fine that means nothing.

Most complaints about energy companies are about inaccurate, late or unclear energy bills. The Code of Practice for Accurate Bills from the Energy Retail Association sets out requirements for how energy bills should be calculated and issued.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier?

Food regulation: That other FSA, the Food Standards Agency. Paris says Brussels and London are dragging their heels over proposals to improve food safety by introducing the labeling of meat in ready-made meals. And only last week we hear that the lamb in our kebabs is chicken or beef. The cost of food labeling compliance in the UK is estimated at £32.5m for just one major retailer.

Were we better off pre regulation? Were we better off when we did not have supermarkets and fast food outlets, seeing what we brought at butchers, bakers, greengrocers? 

Telephone regulation: OFCOM is the communications regulator. We regulate the TV and radio sectors, fixed line telecoms, mobiles, postal services, plus the airwaves over which wireless devices operate.

The regulatory ‘Waterbed’ effect is already well illustrated in the mobile phone industry where regulation fixes the prices of basic products and services only for consumers to see significant increases in the price of peripherals and additional services as a direct consequence.

Were we better off pre- denationalization and pre regulation with just one supplier, the GPO?

Railways: ORR The Office of Rail Regulation are the economic regulator for railway infrastructure (Network Rail and HS1); the health and safety regulator for the rail industry as a whole – including mainline, metro, tramways and heritage railways across Britain; and the industry's consumer and competition authority.

Were we better off pre- denationalization, privatisation and pre regulation with just one supplier- British Rail?

National Health regulation: Now here it get’s really complicated and it is little wonder that healthcare is in such a mess.

In hospitals we used to have a simple management structure, it was called ‘Matron”. 

Look at these regulatory bodies, is it any wonder that we see so many problems, with the very simple mission objective being to make people better being thwarted at every regulatory door, often ending it would seem in DBNHS (death by national health service).

MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. The MHRA is a centre of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which also includes the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), and the Clinical Practice Research Data link (CPRD). The MHRA is an executive agency of the Department of Health. 

CQC’s The Care Quality Commission (CQC) makes sure hospitals, care homes, dental and GP surgeries, and all other care services in England provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high quality care, and encourages these services to make improvements. 

NICE National Institute for Health and Care Excellence provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care. It develops guidance, standards and information on high quality health and social care. It also advises on ways to promote healthy living and prevent ill health. 

HFEA Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is the UK's independent regulator dedicated to licensing and monitoring fertility clinics and research involving human embryos. 

NIHR The National Institute for Health Research is a large, multi-faceted and nationally distributed organisation. Together, NIHR people, facilities and systems represent the most integrated clinical research system in the world, driving research from bench to bedside for the benefit of patients. 

PHE Public Health England was established on April 1 2013, just like the FCA, to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations, including the former Health Protection Agency (HPA), into a single public health service.

PSA Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care promotes the health, safety and wellbeing of patients, service users and the public, by raising standards of regulation and voluntary registration of people working in health and care. It is an independent body, accountable to the UK parliament.

Is it any wonder that doing businesses, society and life in general is made more expensive, difficult, confusing and less fit for purpose?

Here, with some help from Wikipedia, is a list of some I may have missed:

Charities

Education

  • Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation
  • Ofsted - Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills

Environment

Finance

Health

Law

Social Care

Transport

Utilities

PhonepayPlus - regulator for phone-paid services in the UK, part of Ofcom, replaces ICSTIS

Other

EU leaders met in Brussels in October 2013 to discuss ways to improve growth and competitiveness across Europe. Using data from the UK Government’s impact assessments of these rules, Open Europe estimated that the top 100 EU laws cost the UK economy £27.4 billion a year. This was more than the UK Treasury expected to raise in revenue from Council Tax in 2013 (£27 billion). 
And laws equal regulatons equals regulators.

Those hardworking families are doing so just to keep this lot going.

The unintended cost burdens of regulation in the UK are almost unquantifiable, certainly vast and in almost every case there are grounds to think that life could be simpler, cheaper and more fulfilling if we all took responsibility for our actions, adopted common sense in management styles, business practices, directives and substituting ‘elf and safety’ with sanity. 

Time for a rethink?

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Comments (4)

Recent quotes on regulation:

"It can't possibly be my fault; I'm a GOOD person!" (Dave Macaroon)

"It can't possibly be my fault; I'm a GOOD person too!" (Gorgeous Wozborn)

"Whom can I blame?" (Ned Sillyman)

"Whom can I sue?" (Ned Bawl-Zupp)

"Can I earn a large bonus out of this?" ( Q Anne Golightly)

Richard Brown   24/04/2014   19:14
As your extensive list shows there are an awful lot of career regulators doing very nicely out of a system which forces the public to pay for their final salary pension schemes.
Unfortunately the rest of us are just going to have to work within that system.
Having said that, I met the Pensions Regulator today.
What a refreshingly helpful attitude they have compared to the FSA / FCA. If we could persuade the FCA to be similarly constructive they might actually do some good for the consumer and the economy instead of just themselves and their chums in the banks.

Michael Both   24/04/2014   22:45
Very well done indeed for highlighting the fact that it is not only Financial Services that is blighted by bureaucratic overweening box ticking.

I was looking for the Factory Inspectorate, but then realised that this probably now falls under the ambit of the Elf and Safety Inspectorate.

Like most regulation it is like Religion - a great idea in theory that rather falls down in practice. While people do deserve a level of protection - as in factories - it is perfectly responsible to ensure that workers can carry out their jobs in a safe environment - but like so much else in regulation the jobsworths who seem attracted to the regulatory profession grasp their clipboards and ball pens and start tickling every tiny box so that in the end they actually become business prevention officers.

This generally has two results (outcomes in modern PC regulatory speak)
1. Jobs go to Asia where they are rather less fastidious
2. The job is automated and Robots don’t come under the tyranny of regulators.

The bottom line is that jobs are lost in the countries that have the most intrusive regulation.

Harry Katz   25/04/2014   10:16
Most certainly regulation in Financial Services is out of control.

It is in severe danger of exterminating the very profession which it is trying to regulate.

One needs look no further than the 25% reduction in advisers in just one year, as a direct result of the RDR, which itself, let’s face it, has failed in every respect. If we as a profession cannot even agree on that, then we are indeed lost. There is no equivocating – RDR failed in absolutely every single aspect, and we told them so for years and years before they installed it anyway.

Furthermore, despite the empty and misleading platitudes from Mr Wheatley, it would seem that IFA numbers are still falling.

However …. And here is the point …. We were absolute crap at regulating ourselves … weren’t we ?

As a simple example …. When so many of our community spent ten or fifteen years arguing the case for the wholesale application of the endowment mortgage, when it had been so obviously rendered virtually useless by the PEP, what did we really believe was going to happen next ?

As far as any regulator is concerned, the fact is that if you give someone a policeman’s helmet and tell him that he is a policeman, then surprise, surprise, he is indeed going to act and behave like a policeman.

The regulator is going to regulate, and what we are now seeing is the terminal phase of that spiral, where the regulator begins to regulate itself out of a profession to regulate.

There is a solution.

If we want to render the regulator entirely useless, then we will have to develop our own body, or professional federation, which will make its’ own rules, and enforce them to the point where the regulator itself is entirely superfluous.

There are dangers.

We do not want a “holier than thou” attitude, the like of which I sadly experienced at the creation meeting of The IFA Centre. Sorry to say this Gill, but I told you so … let’s face it … it was a complete and utter disaster when you allowed the very first meeting to be hijacked. You know very well precisely what and who I am talking about.

Neither do we want another police force.

However, we really do need to self-regulate the concept of sales versus advice, and customers versus clients.

If you want to argue about the definition of those two simple words, then I guarantee that you are trying to be one thing when you are in fact the other.

If we cannot get these simple things right then the regulatory pain will continue.

Trevor Harrington   27/04/2014   00:08

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