Boom time for Britain's Big Brothers

More than 20,000 officials are employed to keep an eye on other officials, and the number, under New Labour, is increasing, reports David Walker

BIG BROTHER is no longer just watching you: he's being watched himself. The public sector is undergoing a regulation boom, with more than 20,000 officials being employed to check the paper work of ... other officials.

According to the authors of a new study the Government employs more regulators, inspectors and auditors of its own procedures than before - yet the public sector has shrunk. Although the expansion took place when Margaret Thatcher and John Major were in power, it shows no signs of abating under New Labour. The Blair administration's plans for Scotland and Wales, plus its policies for health and education, are adding to theregulatory army.

The endeavours of 130-odd government agencies for inspection and audit inside government cost some pounds 1.5bn a year. Then there is the cost of staffing the regulatory bodies monitoring the private sector such as the Office of Water Services or the Office of Electricity Regulation, and local authority weights and measures and planning departments.

Some are inspectors - for example HM Inspectorate of Probation or the Social Services Inspectorate. Others are auditors - the National Audit Office employs some 800 staff to monitor Whitehall's books, in addition to the accountants and analysts employed by the Audit Commission (which also makes extensive use of consultants and private sector auditors) and, in Scotland, the Commission for Local Authority Accounts. Other regulators are gathered in a variety of "agencies" and "units". Bodies such as the Higher Education Funding Councils also do regulatory work.

The arms for Sierra Leone affair was a reminder, too, that Customs and Excise also employs staff whose job is to monitor fellow civil servants.

Professor Christopher Hood of the London School of Economics, lead author of a two-year study carried out for the Economic and Social Research Council, said last week that the work of these various regulatory bodies may well be necessary. The point is that no one knows. "There is no central monitoring of the monitors. Nobody inspects the inspectors to make sure they are giving the public value for money."

His study offers the first reputable picture of the "regulatory state". Since the mid-1970s the number of auditing and inspecting bodies has grown by a fifth, from 110 to 134 but at the same time staff numbers have grown as well, possibly by around 60 per cent.

Set against total public sector manpower of around four million, 20,000 internal regulators may appear modest - one inspector/auditor for every 200 staff - but Professor Hood says his estimates are minimal. A full tally of the regulatory operation ought to include 70 odd administrative tribunals and supra-national regulators such as the European Commission.

In addition, there is a cost to every government department and council of complying with rules and regulations set down from on high. The cost to universities, for example, of complying with the complicated documents issued as part of the regular Research Assessment Exercise has been estimated at more than pounds 27m - money which otherwise might have been spent on teaching or scholarship.

A further problem is overlap. Staff at one Yorkshire college of further education welcomed no fewer than 16 different auditors. The National Audit Office and the Audit Commission are reviewing the impact of regulation in education, including the finding that examination results in some schools appear to decline after visits from inspectors sent by Ofsted.

On the Government's behalf industrialist Sir Christopher Haskins, chairman of the Better Regulation Task Force, promised to alleviate the burden of regulation on citizens and companies. But this new study suggests he ought to turn his attention to government itself.

"The regulators of government do not meet one another, do not see themselves as engaged in similar operations and there are no mechanisms for encouraging consistency across the organisations involved," says Professor Hood. "Indeed the structure seems to reflect a belief that duplication, overlap and unrationalised proliferation, making costly demands, promote value for money."

He suggests more "league table" comparisons between the inspectors and auditors. "Given that the growth of regulation inside government looks set to continue under New Labour some coherent principles for regulating the regulators merit attention."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food