The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday called for a rethink in how UK regulators operate, as it said in a report that it is “not clear that government and regulators are equipped” to meet a series of oncoming and significant challenges including post-Brexit rules and technological changes.
The calls come as UK bodies take on roles European regulators previously held and the UK attempts to adapt quickly to rapid technological and social changes that include increased focus on the climate emergency.
The report said that UK regulators have been too slow to innovate and “do not have a good enough understanding of the costs and benefits of regulation.”
“Poor regulation has serious human, economic and environmental consequences: From the Grenfell tragedy to the miss-selling of pensions, regulatory failures have played a part. But as we have seen during the pandemic, regulators can move fast," said Dame Meg Hillier MP and chair of the PAC.
“With the rapid changing challenges of new technology there is a danger that regulators will be behind the curve of current and future threats and they need to be able to adapt quickly to these new challenges.”
The report says governments can learn from examples from the pandemic of regulators that have been agile and responded swiftly over the last 18 months.
These include the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA’s) work to authorise a COVID vaccine, and rapid collaboration across regulators on the safety requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE).
It also says that the government should require regulators to engage meaningfully with businesses to explore potential new ideas and innovations and adopt regulatory sandbox type approaches, in a way that does not hinder regulatory objectives or create undue risk.
In the wake of Brexit, the report has said that regulators must recruit and retain the right staff, collaborate effectively with other regulators both domestically and internationally, and exploit new technology to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
"The extent of the challenge is considerable, and regulators’ efforts to meet this challenge must be supported by the right strategic and legislative frameworks, as well as the necessary skills and capacity," it concluded.
The report also recommended that government and regulators should work together to build in proper consideration of the right balance between outcomes-based and rules-based regulation in their sectors, to ensure regulatory objectives are not compromised and non-compliance by regulated entities does not go undetected.
“We welcome today’s report, and are already acting on many of the recommendations to make sure we have a regulatory environment that encourages innovation while also protecting the public," a government spokesperson said.
“We have created the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund to support projects that will contribute to a more innovation-friendly regulatory environment; the Regulatory Horizons Council, designed to ensure industry can adopt new technologies without excessive restrictions; and have decided to pursue a 'common law' approach to regulation now that we are not tied to the EU’s laws, ensuring our regulatory system is responsive and proportional.”
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