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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 January 2008, 15:50 GMT
Rick Haythornthwaite interview transcript...
On the Politics Show, Sunday 20 January 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Rick Haythornthwaite, Chair, Risk & Regulatory Advisory Council.

Rick Haythornthwaite, Chair, Risk & Regulatory Advisory Council
Zero risk tolerance is neither desirable or achievable
Rick Haythornthwaite


JON SOPEL: Risk is being put back in to public policy, to ensure in the words of the new Risk & Regulation Advisory Council's Chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, that commonsense prevails - and Mr Haythornthwaite joins us now, thank you very much for coming to the studio. You didn't trip over any cables on the way in, which we're glad about. Have things gone too far?

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Well, I think as the piece said, examples abound and there's no doubt, you can see from the response to our piece, our launch this week, you know, the public do find it irritating and they sometimes think there's someone up there doing this to us. It had gone too far, but actually, if you'd look behind the scenes, look at the government, what you tend to see is the biggest myth here is there isn't someone behind there doing it to us, there's generally well-intentioned, talented people, working in a system that is forcing them in to quirky policy and unintended consequences and they want to change as much as the public.

JON SOPEL: But then when you get situations, I mean you know conquers and wearing glasses, I don't know, kind of, if you're going to the pantomime season, it's now advised that actors shouldn't throw sweets in, in case they injure a child. And there are obvious and then the other side of it, you know, someone trying to rescue someone on the edge of cliff told because they weren't wearing a harness, they should be censored for it.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: You're right. But we could spend our lives trying to change the individual incidents and in fact there are a lot of people working on that. What we want to do is very different. We want to get to the root causes of these things and there are a number. The first is, there's an awful lot of fiction around this particular area and I think we need to separate fact from fiction and we need to make sure that all the voices get heard, not just the loudest voices. We've got to get the public to understand the trade-offs that are out there. It's all very well us asking for more protection, but actually, protection costs in terms of self-reliance, resilience, spirit of adventure. Those trade-offs need to be publicly discussed and then finally, and this is where we expect to spend most of our time, we've got to deal with some of the systemic flaws in policy making, within Whitehall.

JON SOPEL: What do you mean by the systemic flaws in policy making.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Well, if I was to characterize policy making in Whitehall, what you typically see is an issue is raised through a tragic incident, or in a constituency post-bag and it starts off with very good intentions, being looked at across the whole thing, understanding the evidence in there. What happens very quickly is pressure comes from confrontational parliament, aggressive media, short term career pressures, it doesn't matter what, but it gets driven in to simple announcements, simple constructs, driven through as a very determinedly policy, which results in poor outcomes.

JON SOPEL: Okay, an instance in the news which is obviously a tragic case that's taken place in Bedford where it seems that someone has died after being hit by a tazer gun being used by the police, now that's the typical sort of thing, we're not going to go in to the details of the case, but where you might get say, well, actually, what we need to do is ban all tazer guns.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Well it is a good example to illustrate where we've come from because first of all, foremost, is that's not for us to decide what the outcome should be, there's the Independent Police Complaints Commission, there are elected officials, what we would be concerned about is that precedent would suggest that these emotional incidents lead to precipitous policy that have in turn, unintended consequences, which might well lead to the police being more burdened, less effective, which we will duly complain about in time. So, we want to make sure those leaders have the courage to buy time, gather the facts and make a good decision, that's in the interests of exactly what we want as a public.

JON SOPEL: It sounds like a plea for common sense.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Yes, but actually, there's enormous alignment both amongst the public and within Whitehall and Ministers, they don't want to make bad policy, they want culture and processes that leads routinely to good outcomes.

JON SOPEL: I just wonder, you're a small directorate, within a government department, I don't know how many of you - is it seven of you.


JON SOPEL: Yeah. How much impact can you have?

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Well you know, you can change culture the hard way or the easy way. The hard way is you pick on every incident, the easy way is you create a different successful model of behavior. That's what we'll do. You don't need many examples, provided the leadership picks that up and says, that's the way I want you to work as Ministers and Civil Servants, it will flow down through the system very quickly.

JON SOPEL: And in a few words - risk, it's a good thing isn't it.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Risk can be a very good thing. This isn't to pretend that regulation doesn't have a place in a civilized society, it does. But actually, zero risk tolerance is neither desirable or achievable. Leave risk in our lives, make a sensible decision who should manage that risk, individual or government.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Rick Haythornthwaite, thank you very much indeed for coming in and joining us.

RICK HAYTHORNTHWAITE: Thank you very much.


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The Politics Show Sunday 20 January 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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