The current UK Coalition focus on cutting red tape, encouraging innovation and local growth has led to a wave of support for deregulation. As I come at this from an environmental standpoint, I would argue that a clean-up of unnecessary regulation and a focus on efficient and effective policy is needed but I am very cautious of the state stepping away from its regulatory role. I acknowledge that encouraging growth and innovation requires specific regulatory conditions but, as outlined in a recent paper by the Aldersgate Group, Dealing with Deficits and an article on ‘smart regulation’ by Terry A’Hearn a former Australian environmental regulator, this requires better and more effective regulation – not the absence of it. This becomes clear when considering green growth; seen as a way out of the recession, many new green technologies and their implementation require cross-cutting regulation to ensure sustainable outcomes are realised.
There has been a lot of good research published about the need to take a long-term approach to public services reform and budget cuts – this was a key tenet of the Commission on 2020 Public Services final report. Caution too about adopting the cheapest solution to meet required standards as we navigate out of the financial crisis – with so few resources and such high demand it is easy to see why the immediate cheap fix is taken rather than the most sustainable option. Again, looking to environmental management we can learn from the development of policies that deal with issues spanning long time frames (often intergenerational) and where the consequences of traditional short-term management of natural resources are hitting home.
The debate over public/private goods in public services has also been illustrated in the debates over shared resources such as fish stocks, and the difficulty finding consensus across jurisdictions in international climate change talks. The problem of externalities – those things which effect a public good (for better or worse) but are not captured in current financial or regulatory systems – are also being tackled in a collaborative (environment/economic/political) manner and were recently addressed in the UK NEA and recent Defra Natural Environment White Paper.
In our effort to think differently about how to provide public services and step away from the traditional siloed approaches to social responsibilities, we also face other issues surrounding deregulation, short-term/long-term conflicts and defining, measuring and managing public goods. Perhaps we can learn from the hard won environmental governance progress being made? Putting aside the obvious linkages between environmental issues and public services (see British Academy report on climate change and public policy), I think there is a real opportunity to learn from the collaborative and radical approaches, innovative processes and tools and the rebalancing of public/private relationships currently being deployed in the environmental sector. The 2020 Hub is about to embark on a project that looks at some of these issues as part of a NHBC sponsored project on the new role of business… stay tuned!