Contract signing

The growing focus on organisations signing up to voluntary regulation has led retailers to an important question: when, and in which circumstances, is it rational to prefer government-sponsored voluntary regulation initiatives?

Considering the significant impact retailers have on public policy issues, it seems to me that getting the regulatory approach right is essential if we are to be successful in achieving a particular policy objective.

The BRC has been addressing the question, and has come up with a framework for voluntary regulation. This has built on the work of Oxford-based researchers Professor Chris Hodges and Dr Chris Decker, who the BRC commissioned to examine the use of government-sponsored voluntary regulation measures in the British retail industry.

Their findings have led us to recommend a series of assessments retailers and government should apply when considering a voluntary proposal. These are: an evidenced-based problem to be solved; a clear desirable outcome; a practical, proportionate and targeted proposal; robust impact assessment; monitoring and review mechanism; and the full application of better regulation principles (sunset clauses, one-in two-out, etc).

While retailers have generally been willing to sign up to such arrangements in the past, they have done so without a uniform approach from government departments, the absence of monitoring progress or an ­evidence base for many of the key proposals. This has resulted in various concerns about the process and the outcomes.

If this were to become widespread, government may well find growing resistance to such agreements.

It is our hope that industry and government can work in partnership to take a balanced decision in each case,applying the right tests to a proposal without assumptions being made from the beginning. We’re already encouraged by the considerable interest shown among EU Commission officials, and the Scottish government in particular.

We now look to Westminster and Whitehall to take the framework forward.

Tom Ironside is BRC’s business and regulation director