They loved the ribbons. But red tape is not always popular.
The early days of the last Westminster government would suggest regulation is not something the Truss administration loved at all. They were keen to point out their collective desire to cut through the bureaucracy they felt holds British business back.
I know it is a bit of a cheek for someone like me – who has spent many happy hours finding ways to subvert any rule in my way – to criticise deregulatory instincts. But I wonder if this bonfire of regulations is not just a vanity in itself. After all, it is easy to sweep things away, but it might be worth remembering why the rules were needed in the first place.
Let me declare an interest. I have worked in and around legislation and regulated industries for most of my professional life. And I believe there is a case for regulation.
Despite backtracking on bonuses, I don’t think – outside the glass houses of Canary Wharf, the coffee-shop culture of London’s Square Mile and the once hallowed banking halls of George Street and its environs – most people think there should be a free-for-all for bankers. It didn’t go so well last time I recall. And I have worked in energy. Currently, that doesn’t look like a shining example of anything other than self-interest either.
Today I work in construction where the Association for Project Safety, a body dedicated to reducing accidents and ill-health, serves members who live and die by regulations designed to mitigate risk in the built environment.
I know the country needs more affordable homes and must rebuild its ageing infrastructure. But I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest, post-Grenfell, that encouraging a building bonanza shouldn’t also come with a dead-man’s-handle to put the brakes on any project when it comes to keeping the walls up and avoiding a manpower catastrophe on the scale of the World Cup stadiums in Qatar.
We need a balance. Across the board there has to be a middle ground where risks are managed proportionately, sensible rules are observed and authorities can feel confident to leave industries to regulate themselves.
And there’s the rub. Self-regulation doesn’t have a great track record. Self-interest has had a nasty tendency to overwhelm good intentions and common sense.
But more often than I think we admit, laziness is a greater cause of failure than lawlessness and larceny.
I’m not talking about indolence: there is more to lying back than simply lying around on the sofa. What I’m talking about is parking your brain on the hatstand when you go to work. About leaving it for someone else to take responsibility.
I know most people try to be hard-working and conscientious. But it is undoubtedly easier to rely on a distant rulebook than stand out – and risk opprobrium. And the personal risk is so much less.
Possible litigation means any sensible person wants to cling to a clipboard and check list. The tension is that no government wants to provide a catch-all catalogue of every do and don’t. And that’s for the simple reason that no list – no matter how long – can ever be exhaustive. So, professionals will be expected to stand by their skills and experience.
For a better, fairer, safer society we have to learn from our honest mistakes. And stop passing the parcel from person to person until the bomb goes off – again!
Lesley McLeod, Chief Executive, Association for Project Safety