“• The elephant in the room not mentioned in Steven Poole’s excellent article on deregulation was the de facto deregulation facilitated by the government’s savage cuts in local authority spending. Councils were inevitably going to respond to these cuts by reducing the resources available for statutory duties where cuts would be less likely to create an immediate outcry, such as regulation enforcement. It would be naive to think that a government obsessed with deregulation would not have been fully aware of this. This week’s news of tower block cladding investigations provides grim evidence of the effects of this strategy, if any were needed.
Chichester, West Sussex
• As long ago as 1840, when rapid expansion forced government at least to consider some degree of regulation of buildings, Thomas Cubitt gave evidence to the select committee on the health of towns. He warned that, without rules and regulations, builders would put up houses crammed into smaller and smaller spaces. “I am afraid a house would become like a slave ship, with the decks too close for the people to stand upright.”
Polly Toynbee was right to insist on the need for regulation (They call it useless red tape, but without it people die, 20 June). And they couldn’t, in 1840, even imagine 24 storeys high.
• Steven Poole provides an excellent account of the right’s professed hatred of regulation and red tape, but this ideological hostility only seems to apply to big business and the private sector.
By contrast, the last three decades have seen the public sector crushed under regulatory burdens and tied up in red tape, often in a bizarre attempt at making schools, hospitals, the police, social services and universities more efficient, business-like and accountable. Talk to most doctors, nurses, police officers, probation officers, social workers and university lecturers, and one of their biggest complaints will be the relentless increase in bureaucracy imposed by Conservative (and New Labour) governments since the 1980s.
Instead of focusing on their core activities and providing a good professional service, many frontline public sector workers are compelled to devote much of their time and energy to countless strategies, statutory frameworks, regulations, codes of practice, quality assurance procedures, government targets, action plans, form-filling, box-ticking, monitoring exercises, and preparations for the next external inspection.
A major reason for public sector workers quitting their profession, taking early retirement or suffering from stress-related illnesses is the sheer volume of bureaucracy that Conservatives (and New Labour) have imposed during the last 35 years. This bureaucracy, almost as much as underfunding, is destroying the public sector, impeding efficiency and innovation, and driving frontline staff to despair.