Independent review supports HSE – so govt ignores it

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 10/01/2014 - 16:10

10 January 2014

Martin Temple, former Director-General of employers' organisation EEF, yesterday (09 January 2014) published his Triennial Review into the HSE, revealing a supportive attitude toward the body. The government, perhaps surprised at the failure of an industry leader to toe the ideological line toward increased privatisation and deregulation, announced it would disregard some of his most important recommendations.

The Review, launched in April 2013, focused in particular on whether the HSE's current functions remain necessary and whether its position as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) was the most effective mode of operation.

This is the latest in a long run of reviews into health and safety that have been commissioned almost one after another since the Coalition took power in 2010 (including the Young Review and the Lofstedt Review). It is also the latest to recommend continued government support for the HSE and to warn against deregulation.

In a written statement to parliament yesterday, Minister of State for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions Mike Penning declared that Temple's review would be largely ignored, implying that some form of privatisation is likely in the HSE's future.

"The review has concluded that the functions performed by HSE are still required and that it should be retained as a NDPB. Mr Temple has recommended that HSE build on its well-deserved international reputation and make more progress to grow its commercial income," Mr Penning stated.

"I welcome these recommendations, but want to go further to introduce reforms of HSE to ensure that it delivers value for money to the taxpayer ... There is considerable potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and in delivery,” he added.

"I have asked HSE to begin work immediately to examine commercial models for HSE ... and to review the HSE board to ensure it has the right skills to oversee future efficiencies and commercial income-generating options," Mr Penning said.

Although Mr Temple recommended some commercialisation measures to plug the gap public funding of the HSE has left (he notes that the body will soon receive more than 40% less money than in 2009/10), his wholehearted support for the organisation to remain an NDPB seems to be in direct contrast with the government's privatisation dreams.

The Institute of Employment Rights (IER) opposes the increased commercialisation of the HSE – whether by Mr Temple's more moderate proposals or by the selling-off of the body we fear is among the government's aims – in order to ensure the organisation's priorities remain the health and safety of UK workers, rather than profit.

Indeed, Mr Temple noted a potential shift toward more dangerous habits by HSE inspectors due to the introduction, in October 2012, of its Fee For Intervention (FFI) scheme, which charges employers for HSE inspection time and resources when health and safety laws are breached.

While it is perfectly acceptable and fair for employers found to have been acting illegally to be asked to repay the cost to the taxpayer of their investigation and prosecution, the way FFI is currently operating means that the HSE earns more money by spending a longer time investigating rather than by the severity of a breach.

This means that it may be perversely beneficial to the HSE to pour resources into investigating minor breaches that are likely to take additional expertise – and therefore more chargeable time – to conclude than serious breaches that put workers' lives in danger.

Mr Temple wrote in his report that the current FFI model is "potentially very damaging".

"I have concluded that it is a dangerous model which links, directly or indirectly, the funding of the regulator to its income from "fines". If this link could be broken, the anticipated benefits of FFI, that it would be an incentive to compliance, could be realised," he said.

The problems arising from this attempt at commercialisation of the HSE should act as a warning as to how relying on profit can lead the original aims of public bodies – to protect workers – to become skewed and result in a much less effective organisation.

A spokesperson for the Hazards Campaign railed against Mr Penning's response to the Review, saying: "We utterly condemn as lacking any credibility, the minister's dismissal of his own government-commissioned, independent review process because it didn't rubber stamp the ideological market-led result the government wanted."

"Any evidence that refutes the government's sick fantasy approach to workers' lives and health – the lie that it's a terrible 'burden on business' – gets the irrational demented Dalek mantra of: 'Deregulate, Privatise and Commercialise' and threats to exterminate the HSE as we know it."

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