Friday, November 21, 2008

Light touch or better regulation in social housing and beyond

This week in Inside Housing the new Chief Executive of the Tenant Services Authority tells us that he does not talk about “light touch regulation”.

It’s an excellent sound bite but I was wondering what the opposite of that is: heavy handed regulation? (To be fair, the TSA does not appear to plan to bring a big, clunking fist to social housing.)

It’s a pity that the term “better regulation” has gone out of fashion.

I had a certain fondness for the five principles of better regulation:

1) Proportionality
2) Accountability
3) Consistency
4) Transparency
5) Targeting

There is a real risk that the lack of regulation in the financial sector (or perhaps more accurately problems with what regulation there was) will lead to the rehabilitation of red tape.

Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote in the Guardian recently of his big worry that:

the main message of the credit crunch - that "markets don't work, we need more regulation" - is read across into other arenas like health, welfare reform, education. All areas where, pre-crunch, we were witnessing a rapid shift from 1970s statism to a more nuanced approach in which markets, competition and a diversity of providers are used to drive up standards

On the continent some thinkers used to talk about the “social market” as: the market where possible, the state where necessary. It would be good if in social housing (and public services generally) the regulators used the slogan: competition where possible, regulation where necessary.

I know it’s not snappy. But it is what is needed.

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