New body to offer realistic assessment of risk

Gordon Brown today pushed for a more realistic approach to health and safety, as Labour counters claims it has presided over a swelling of the “nanny state”.

The prime minister has tasked a new council, dubbed the “body for common sense” with improving the management of risks.

The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (RRAC) will work with ministers and civil servants to develop a better understanding of public risk and with third sector and voluntary organisations to foster a more considered approach to public risk.

It is thought it will be used to issue a “common sense” rebuff to pantomimes preventing actors from throwing sweets at children and councils banning hanging baskets.

The RRAC has been tasked with determining how risk management should sensibly inform policymaking, including whether there is “systemic risk aversion” in the private and public sectors.

It will also consider the government’s response to obesity, animal diseases and regional regeneration failures.

The RRAC, officially launched today by the prime minister, is the brainchild of the Better Regulation Commission. Shortly after taking office Mr Brown asked the commission how his ambition for a “more rounded consideration” of how public risk could be embedded in policy.

Mr Brown said today: “The issue of public risk is one of the most challenging areas of policymaking for any government. I have asked the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council to provide a catalyst for the change we need in the way policy is developed across all departments.

“I am pleased to offer my support to the council as they embark on their work to improve public policymaking.”

Chaired by Rick Haythornthwaite and comprised of seven unpaid members, the RRAC will report directly to Downing Street.

Mr Haythornthwaite said the BRC’s past risk report had “touched a nerve” in government.

He continued: “[It] put the spotlight on the relationship between risk and regulation, acknowledging that all parts of society are responsible for a disproportionate attitude towards risk.”

Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, welcomed the initiative, arguing that the root causes of excessive regulation and red tape “are often to be found in poorly understood notions of risk”.

“The proposed Risk and Regulation Advisory Council should provide a neutral forum where evidence-based analysis and processes could lead to better policy outcomes,” Mr Lambert added.

Ed Balls, schools and children secretary, voiced his own criticisms of an excessive health and safety culture last year, saying children should be free to climb trees and throw snowballs.

“Children should not be wrapped in cotton wool,” he said.