Regulatory bodies are failing to fulfil their duties due to budget cuts and declining staff numbers, according to a new report.
The analysis investigated losses in regulatory enforcement capacity across food, the environment, health and safety, consumer protection, employee rights and local spaces.
Across the regulatory areas examined, average budgets had fallen 41% in real terms and staff numbers by over a third during the last decade. This has led to an “enforcement gap which threatens to undermine the very rules which keep our society running properly”, the research claims.
According to the report, between 2009-2019 the Forestry Commission had its funding cut by 53%, while Local Authority spending on environmental and regulatory services fell 31%. Funding at the Food Standards Agency fell 51%, while there was a 60% drop in manpower amongst Local Authority food standards staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The research claims that there was a 58% cut in funding at the Health and Safety Executive, a 49% cut in spending on Health and Safety by Local Authorities in England, and a 22% fall in fire and rescue staff in England during the same period.
The Enforcement Gap 2020 report has been published by Unchecked.uk, a project of The Ecology Trust, a grant-making charity which tackles the root causes of environmental and societal problems. It was founded in 2019 and is supported by the JMG Foundation, The Kestrelman Trust and The Funding Network.
In a letter to The Times to coincide with publication of the report, twenty major organisations from across UK civil society warn that “steep reductions in inspections and monitoring of regulated businesses in recent years risks undermining the achievement of public policy objectives”. The letter has been signed by organisations including Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth, Mums for Lungs, the Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the National Consumer Federation.
“The analysis we are publishing is alarming and is cause for serious national concern,” said Emma Rose of Unchecked.uk.
“With important regulators operating with on average 50% less funding than ten years ago, there is a need for a closer look at the state of our public protection infrastructure.
“As a country we believe in fair play, common standards, and everyone playing by the same rules – but the truth is, the people we rely on to enforce those rules are being hamstrung.”
Arnold Pindar, Chairman of the National Consumer Federation, said:
“We live in an increasingly complicated world, and we expect high standards – clean air, safe water, and better goods and safe products. Strong enforcement is needed to bear down on high-risk suppliers and rogues, and keep us safe from harm.
“However, enforcement capacity has been cut back since the early 2000s, and Unchecked.uk’s research shows how serious this has become. It confirms the major concerns highlighted by recent National Consumer Federation Congresses.
“This cannot carry on.”