Regulators: how to keep number one in check

alex hawkes

People always seem to want regulators, someone to oversee this or give an
opinion on that. It’s a growth industry.

This week we heard more and more calls for regulatory intervention. Prime
minister Gordon Brown has even set up a new agency at local government level to
ensure there aren’t too many agencies spewing out too many regulations.

I dread to think what its first job will be. Issuing a regulation against
regulation, perhaps?

The ICAEW is up to it too. Senior figures want an ombudsman to protect
members, who may suffer under the new public disciplinaries being mooted.

Of course, it may be suggested it is hypocritical of a journalist to
criticise regulation. Newspapers create much of the noise demanding that things
are looked into and made more transparent.

And doing away with what we contemptuously refer to as ‘red tape’ risks, on
the other side of the coin, letting go of what may well be valuable checks on
unscrupulous behaviour.

But it’s important to take a broader view of regulation, to target it at the
issues that matter and remove it elsewhere.

For instance, multi-nationals are too lightly regulated. Why shouldn’t they
report on a country-by-country basis? It would be cumbersome, but they make
mind-boggling amounts of money and seem to have to answer to no one.

Government agencies don’t need an over-arching regulator to stop them
regulating, either. If a new rule is silly, we can all tell them so in print, in
parliament and in public generally.

In short, there’s already a body to regulate regulators ­ – us.

Alex Hawkes is the news editor of Accountancy Age

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