This blessed isle, this England


Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to have so many keeping watch over us.  An elderly woman running a B&B up here on the Norfolk Costa Geriatrica has not been paying attention to this good fortune.  Someone comes in from the village to help with making beds and the like.  As an employer she should have been complying with the rules on Legionnaires’ disease but, and I know it is hard to believe, the guidance had escaped her attention.  Its six pages are merely an introduction to “the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) and [the] Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems … technical detail.” These rules apply to every employer. Specifically she should have been:

  • identifying and assessing sources of risk;
  • preparing a scheme (or course of action) for preventing or controlling the risk;
  • implementing and managing the scheme – appointing a person to be managerially responsible, sometimes referred to as the ‘responsible person’;
  • keeping records and check that what has been done is effective;

There are about 300 cases of the disease a year about 40% arising from overseas travel.  The UK cases arise in clusters, i.e. one faulty water system typically infects about 10 people who use it.  The numbers have been falling from a high of nearly 600 in 2006.  There are less than 20 cases a year in East Anglia which probably means, allowing for clusters and overseas travel, no cases in Norfolk at all.

This disease is clearly a local problem and, if regulations are needed at all, they should be local and focussed.

But the urge to regulate is a general UK problem not limited to health and safety.  It has grown massively since Margaret Thatcher invented regulators, originally for the utilities, in the 1980s.  We blame the EU but most of it is home-grown.

Universities provide a very different example.  Should they be truly independent as they were for hundreds of years?  After all, the whole point of a university is freedom to pursue knowledge unfettered by bureaucracy. And if they should be regulated at all, by whom?

If you were choosing a university for yourself or a loved one, which regulator would give most confidence in the integrity of that university?

The Open University proudly boasts, on its home website and emails “The Open University is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.”  No better guarantee than that.