It’s a funny thing about Health and Safety regulations. Sometimes what is deemed “healthy” or “safe” seems more likely to be what is “cheap” or “convenient”.
Take asbestos as an example.
Asbestos is a truly pernicious substance and can cause people to die in horrible ways. Particles are invisible, you can’t smell them, taste them or – once in your lungs – get rid of them.
It is also widespread, producing appalling statistics. Asbestos is currently responsible for some 5,000 deaths a year in the UK, and this is expected to rise to 10,000 a year. Compare this to around 3,000 people killed in road traffic accidents each year.
So you might think that asbestos is being sought out and removed? No: economics gets in the way. Imports of asbestos were banned in 1999 and the big plan is to know where it is and leave it alone as long as possible. Inevitably it is sometimes disturbed or has to be removed.
You might then think the most extreme precautions are taken over this most extremely dangerous substance? No. Economics again.
The Control of Asbestos Regulations set acceptable standards for the amount of asbestos particles in the air; this just so happens to be the same amount most asbestos removal contractors can achieve during cleaning, and just so happens also to be the same amount most asbestos inspectors can measure with their usual equipment.
Certainly not a case of “Health and Safety gone mad”!
The Government is planning a new law that could “bring about a revolution in corporate crime enforcement”. That means letting off their mates if they play ball.
They claim the present justice system is “inadequate for dealing effectively with criminal enforcement against commercial organisations in the field of complex and serious economic crime (fraud, bribery and money laundering)”. It is true that very few cases are brought against offending companies through criminal or civil proceedings is relatively low. Cases can be extremely complicated, and corporate criminals can be very good at tying investigators in knots.
A possible solution would be for state prosecutors to employ enough experts to analyse and present corporate crimes to juries in such a way that doesn’t require lay people to become accounting and corporate law experts. It is not acceptable to take decisions on these sort of crimes away from the British people, who should be the decisive factor in all criminal cases not dealt with by Magistrates’ Benches.
But the Government proposals mean there would be no criminal cases to consider in the first place!
Proposals for Deferred Prosecution Agreements mean criminal charges would not be brought as long as corporate offenders agreed to things like:
- payment of a financial penalty;
- restitution for victims;
- giving up profits from “the offending”; and,
- measures to prevent future offending (just monitoring or reporting requirements).
And all of this would be agreed between offender and prosecutors “without prejudice”, so if it didn’t work out a prosecution would have to start from scratch.
Can you imagine a burglar being allowed to escape like this just because it is too much effort to prosecute? Or an art forger? A con man?
Gordon Brown failed to act on the then general consensus that corporate duties should include some social/environmental responsibilities as well as making profits for shareholders, which was bad enough.
Now the current Government is pressing the advantage of this “business can do no wrong” attitude to make corporate criminal acts far less risk for their chums.
In yet another fantastic show of how completely out of touch with the real world the millionaires who populate the Cabinet really are, they have decided to rename “Asbos”.
In future, ne’er do wells will compete to see who can collect a “Crimbo”, and all the little children will be happy. But if you are a rich twit who spent the Festive hols singing carols around the grand piano with mumsie and pater, or fagging at some elite school, you probably don’t know “Crimbo” is a name children associate with Christmas.
But, then, the millionaires who govern us thought it OK to
- put more tax on pasties
- cut top taxes and take the money off pensioners
- keep energy prices high to pay big profits to nuclear power station operators
- cut police numbers
- and the lst goes on…
They would be funny, if only their policies weren’t so devastating to the peopleof Britain, hundreds of thousands of which are losing their jobs and having their incomes slashed.
On 9th May 2012 I went to an economic debate arranged by “Insider Wales”, who provide news on business in Wales.
I asked, “Do you think the private sector [in North Wales] can provide enough jobs to make up for the cuts in public sector empl;oyment?”
Panel responses were illuminating.
- Institute of Directors North Wales Chair: “Of course not! And why would you want them anyway? They were from the public sector, would you really want people like that in your organisation?”
- Deeside Enterprise Zone Interim Board Chair: “No, that was just wishful thinking, it was never really possible.”
- Watkin Jones Group Managing Director: “No. In the private sector we believe we can do the work with fewer people, so of course not.”
- CBI Noth Wales Chair: “No, but There Is No Alternative [remember Thatcher’s TINA mantra?]. But if we improve the business environment there may be more jobs.”
It would be a funny old world if anyone actually swallowed that line in the first place!