Britain needs superwatchdog to monitor regulators, lawmakers say

LONDON — A superwatchdog is needed as part of Britain’s post-Brexit reset to better hold “increasingly politicized” watchdogs to account, though without impinging on their ability to act independently, a report from the upper house of parliament said on Thursday.

The report was triggered by concerns in previous inquiries over the independence from government of regulators – who set rules and standards for aspects of British life such as education and care, as well as finance and utilities provision – and the clarity of their remit.

Some of Britain’s 90 regulators have too many duties and objectives, but without a clear sense of priority at a time of finite resources, the House of Lords’ Industry and Regulators Committee report said.

“Our report raises concerns about the functioning of the three-way relationship between the regulators, the government, and parliament, particularly the role and performance of regulators, their independence, and their accountability,” said Clive Hollick, who chaired the inquiry.

Government and lawmakers should make clear to regulators how objectives should be prioritised, given concerns over “increasing politicization” of regulation, the report said, which did not spell out any specific areas of concern.

“We are concerned at the perception that the appointment and reappointment of some regulatory leaders reflects their political loyalties more than their suitability for the role,” it added.

The report said some of the regulators had inherited additional responsibilities from EU institutions following Brexit, with implications for both resources and accountability.

It called on the government create a new independent statutory Office for Regulatory Performance – effectively a superwatchdog – that would be accountable to parliament, helping it check on the other watchdogs in a more systematic and thorough way and “plug the gap in regulatory accountability”.

Temporary “embedding” by parliament’s Treasury Committee of specialist advisers at financial regulators, such as on two occasions in the past, could be explored by other parliamentary committees to improve scrutiny, the report said.

Parliamentary committees should also play a greater role in scrutinising appointments at regulators, it said.

The lawmakers spoke to 15 regulators, including the Competition and Markets Authority, Financial Conduct Authority, and regulators for communications, schools, and energy.

The government has already begun reviewing UK regulators under its “Smarter Regulation” program, with accountability for financial watchdogs already reformed, with new parliamentary committees to scrutinize them. — Reuters