24th June 2019

Doing without… Regulators

Regulators occupy an essential role in society, providing a line of defence against dangerous goods and unscrupulous business practices, and working to ensure the safety of the food we eat, the products we buy and the houses we live in. So why are they so often taken for granted?

By Eleni Chalkidou
Director of Communications, Chartered Trading Standards Institute
Without rules, any game will quickly descend into chaos and foul play – pretty soon, the whole point of playing at all vanishes, and where’s the fun in that?

Whenever I pull out a board game – whether it’s Monopoly, Scrabble or Battleship – it’s more or less guaranteed that my free-reading six-year-old, who is a ‘stickler for the rules’, will pick up the rule book and start reading out loud. This is usually followed by me rolling my eyes, going: “Achilles, stop being so pedantic, we’ll just make them up as we go. It will be more fun.”

Thinking about it, I guess my words to him carry a tone of contempt, as though playing by the rules is somehow a bad thing and rules are only there for the fastidious, put in place to disrupt our enjoyment.

But of course, he is right. Where would we be without rules? After all, without rules, any game will quickly descend into chaos and foul play – pretty soon, the whole point of playing at all vanishes, and where’s the fun in that?

Similarly, it appears to me this often seems to be people’s perception of regulators – those whose job it is to oversee and enforce the rules that govern so many vital aspects of our lives. Across a range of industries, regulators are there in the background, working diligently to ensure that what we buy and consume is safe – and that fairness and honesty underpin it all. This latter point applies not just to companies’ relationships with consumers, but their relationships with one another.

A series of high-profile, rather shocking cases over the past few years have highlighted just how important the work of regulators is. The horse meat scandal, for example, sparked widespread anger and disgust, and brought into stark relief the need for more stringent regulation around the food supply chain. It led to an extensive review of how food safety is enforced and the National Food Crime Unit was set up in response.

The spate of fires around Whirlpool tumble driers has captured headlines even more recently, and the Office for Product Safety and Standards has been actively involved in addressing the problem, issuing a product recall earlier this month. Likewise the actions of regulators over sub-par phone chargers, for example, have no doubt prevented many fires and saved many lives.

Regulators often come in for criticism when procedures break down, and in some cases this is understandable. But it’s fair to say that more often than not the systems regulators put in place are effective. However, perhaps inevitably, we tend to only hear about cases of things going wrong, rather than the countless examples of the system working to protect us all from harm.

Trading standards is on the front line of ensuring that regulations are enforced, and we collaborate closely with other regulators to achieve this. While there is always room for improvement, I think we can all be proud of what effective regulation can achieve, despite the fact it is often taken for granted. And as for my ‘pedantic’ six-year-old, I guess I’ll try to give him less of a hard time in future when he tries to play by the rules.

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