New Labour and BSI tree inspections

My post yesterday on the proposal by the British Standards Institute that there be compulsory examination of trees at three-yearly and five-yearly intervals (BSI urges new trough for tree inspectors) brings me a comment this morning:

BSI are running short of business at the moment, with many manufacturing companies going out of business. This is a bit of marketing for them. Like the article says, just to Labour’s taste

I thought it worth following up both strands raised here – the suggestion that this sort of nonsense benefits BSI directly and NuLabour’s view, if any, on it.

It appears that BSI makes its money by devising standards, selling them to organisations, and then inspecting them to make sure they comply. Every new set of standards is therefore a source of income, not just once, but as a rolling income stream. BSI has the same interest as civil servants who devise new regulations to ensure their job security and the continual growth of their responsibilities, departments and budgets. They may self-start on this or set about gold-plating EU directives.

It also ties in nicely with NuLabour’s continual striving for new and different ways to impose regulation, which we see at its worst after a reshuffle – every new junior minister needs to have a string of proposals with which to make his or (more often) her name.

How does this sit, however, with Gordon Brown’s alleged commitment to cutting unnecessary regulation? I say “alleged” because interference is second-nature to him – “paternalistic intervention” I suspect he would call it. He did in fact set up a whole new body, the Risks and Regulation Advisory Council, headed by one Rick Haythornthwaite, whose role is apparently to cut red tape. A parallel would be the drinker who joins Alchoholics Anonymous to show his wife that he intends to give up, popping in for a drink or three on the way to and from the meetings.

Haythornthwaite certainly sounds the part. Of the BSI tree recommendations he says:

The draft standard has been put together by a rather narrow group of aboriculturalists and tree surgeons who stand to gain from its adoption, while the potentially enormous costs would have to be met by tree owners

The risk from trees has not increased. We believe the existing legal principle effective for the last 60 years is sufficient. This is a perfect example of how the pressure to regulate in order to minimise public risk can lead to wholly undesirable outcomes if left unchallenged

I am sure he is sincere in saying this, but I don’t believe a word of it or, rather, I don’t believe that the Labour leopard will change its spots on the subject of expensive and unnecessary intervention in other peoples’ business. It will not be long before some ministerial busybody – Yvette Cooper, or Hazel Blears or the deeply stupid Caroline Flint – will back a call for regulation of trees in the manner proposed by BSI. There will not be any suggestion that their motives are personally corrupt, although the whiff of personal gain hangs over so much Labour activity. They just won’t be able to help themselves, needing the fix of interference like a drinker or drug addict needs their fixes.

And if that does not happen, then some dim little peasant in a local authority office will find another route to the same end, perhaps by serving enforcement notices under some existing legislation. When challenged, the local authority will point to the BSI recommendations, whether they are adopted or not, as justification for its stance.



About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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