With a budget and a spending review due, battles over money are likely to be in the headlines. But another battle, albeit along similar ideological lines, is also taking shape: this is the battle over regulation.

Deregulatory instincts run deep among many in this administration as demonstrated by how it continues to make the case for rolling back rules and standards. Aims were encapsulated in a recent document which stated “the UK has the freedom to make and implement rules that put British businesses and consumers first – freeing businesses from overbearing bureaucracy and reducing costs for consumers, whilst boosting competition, innovation and growth across the economy.”

The boldness of such statements ignores two realities, however. The first is political. As shown by Unchecked and others, a desire to strip away at the rules that govern our economy and our society is at odds with a large proportion of public opinion. By and large, British people feel that the balance of regulations remains about right. Indeed, when it comes to governing corporate behaviour, many would like to see them strengthened. Most of those who voted for Brexit were never animated by the need to be freed from Brussels. On the contrary, our research shows that the desire for greater control was literal, not figurative, for many of those voters.

The second barrier is more practical. The role of regulations, and the agencies charged with enforcing them, comes into focus as Government considers how best to deliver on its very big commitments. Robust regulation is the only way of achieving the kind of fundamental change to corporate behaviours required to achieve net zero, as stated recently by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney. Likewise, the obesity pandemic cannot be tackled without muscular fiscal and regulatory incentives to transform the business model that has delivered healthy profits but unhealthy diets, as argued by former Number 10 advisor Camila Cavendish. And recent experience shows that without suitable building and safety regulation, the most ambitious building programme since WW2 is unlikely to deliver homes which are safe, sustainable and beautiful.  

The Government understands that stepping up to ambitions of that scale will require a lot of money. However, it needs to be honest about the fact that radical changes will be impossible without strong and effective regulations.  Following this recess, it would do well to listen to the public, not the vocal deregulators.

Phoebe Clay is co-Director of Unchecked UK