Regulation has a critical role to play

In their review of Performance Management and Public Service Improvement , the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW) found that, while a small number of studies highlight the potential dysfunctions of target setting and performance contracts on organizational effectiveness, there is good evidence that performance management can improve the effectiveness of public services and deliver positive outcomes for service users. Although the PPIW also note that: ‘very little research has been carried out that seeks to understand how the dysfunctions of performance management can be overcome.’

Martyn Evans and Blair Jenkins of the Carnegie UK Trust in their submission to the Leveson Inquiry, suggest that regulatory regimes are good at ‘raising the floor’ and ensuring that acceptable minimum standards of behaviour are applied. But that ‘raising the ceiling’ may be better achieved through other means, such as improved training, than through regulation.  

A good example of where regulation has ‘raised the floor’ is the Decent Homes Programme. Introduced in 2000 by the then Labour government, the programme sought to bring all social housing up to a decent standard: ‘The Decent Homes Standard’ by 2010. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, in their 2010 report on the programme, note, that while the programme failed to meet the target fully it resulted in ‘over a million homes improved since 2001. The living standards of vulnerable households will have been greatly improved by the installation of, for example, 810,000 new kitchens, 610,000 new bathrooms and 1,140,000 new central heating systems’. The BRE Trust estimated that the Decent Homes Standard delivered savings to the NHS of around £392 million and that if the social sector stock continued to be maintained to the same standard, ongoing savings to the NHS would be £71 million per year.

In addition, as Martyn Evans  writing on the regulation of the charity sector sets out regulation is important for trust and accountability: ‘charities rely on the behavior of each other to maintain public trust in all charities and retain their tax and other privileges’ and ‘we all benefit from having an effective external regulator to ensure openness and transparency.’ 

Can politicians really only limit themselves to purpose?

It could be argued that much of the impetus for over-standardising regulatory regimes come from politicians themselves and it may be difficult for politicians to focus only on purpose given pressures on them to avoid ‘post-code lotteries’ (see for example this blog from the Kings Fund, the launch of the ‘dementia atlas’ and the introduction of the Care Act 2014) and to act in the ‘short term’.