Great Britain Installs a New Safety Overseer

Britain's press hailed the Jan. 16 announcement by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that he has created a Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, with The Times cheering it as "the body for common sense" that will be "engage the public, and remind them that the Government is not responsible for every accident or piece of bad fortune that befalls its citizens. The team of seven will tackle policy areas where there are fears that the Government is in danger of overkill," the newspaper's Rosemary Bennett, social affairs correspondent, reported. Defensive labeling, a government campaign against obesity, and a new government plan to thoroughly clean hospitals to ward off MRSA are three projects the panel will address immediately.

Rick Haythornthwaite, who chairs the council, made a fortune through private equity investments. He told The Times that "well-intentioned people" and a policymaking process that "collapses in the face of a confrontational parliamentary system, the media and short-term career pressures" have created a culture of risk aversion. "If you ask someone 'Do you want the world to be a safer place?,' of course they will say yes. But there is always a trade-off. Self-reliance and a spirit of adventure are important national characteristics that could be lost. I want the public to understand that in the trade-off, some important things can be lost," he said, according to the newspaper's story.

Some see this new panel as a slap at the regulatory Health and Safety Commission and its enforcement arm, the Health and Safety Executive, but HSC's chair, Judith Hackitt, said Jan. 16 she welcomes the council's creation. "We have long promoted a common-sense approach to risk and very much look forward to working with the RRAC to identify new ways to take this principle further," she said in a news release posted by her agency.

"The issue of public risk is one of the most challenging areas of policymaking for any government," Brown said when he announced BRAC's formation. "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."

BRAC's Web site is www.berr.gov.uk/about/economics-statistics/rrac/index.html.

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