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Professor Caroline Elliott joins independent Regulatory Policy Committee

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Professor Caroline Elliott joins independent Regulatory Policy Committee

Professor Caroline Elliott has taken up a prestigious role on the UK’s Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC), an independent body of experts which assesses the quality of evidence and analysis used to inform government regulatory proposals.

Since taking up her appointment in March she has already provided expert review on a range of policy issues including multiple drafts of a white paper, an impact assessment for proposed secondary legislation, and two post-implementation reviews.

Professor Caroline Elliott

Looking towards the future, Caroline said: “I hope that I’ll be able to make a difference by using my applied research knowledge and my academic skills on the impact assessments. We’re also going to start looking at policy options assessments and I’m excited to bring my knowledge to bear on the independent reviews.”

Caroline is continuing a tradition of Warwick economists contributing to the work of the committee – the position became vacant when Dr Jonathan Cave’s term of appointment came to an end. He is delighted that, after a rigorous selection process, the Committee chose to appoint another “proper card-carrying academic economist.”

Caroline said: “Jonathan sent me the advertisement for the role, and when I looked into the work of the committee, I thought it looked amazing. I teach industrial economics, regulation and competition policy and I always try and link my teaching to the real world - I never want to be criticised as being an ivory tower academic. Here was an opportunity to put my work into practice – to not just comment on the work of others, or the work of the government, but to be directly involved.

“As an economist, and as an academic economist, I believe there are two things I bring to the role. The first is my familiarity with academic literature and evidence. The second way in which I feel I’m contributing comes back to my academic training. As an academic, as an applied economist, you’re always looking for data. Sometimes you’re having to pull data together from different sources. And because I come from this background I can assist with this.”

Jonathan is delighted that Caroline has been appointed as his successor. “I think because I kept citing peer-reviewed literature in my Opinions and other interventions, trying to ensure that regulatory analysis made appropriate use of economic empirical methodologies and theoretical tools, including the use of real options analysis - I think they saw the value of having a replacement who is similarly positioned.”

Dr Jonathan CaveAsked if he had any advice for Caroline, Jonathan said: “Don’t be afraid to challenge people and to be the voice within the committee resisting calls to compromise when that isn’t appropriate, by ensuring that the impacts of whatever regulations ministers wish to propose are rigorously assessed against real problems, but without being drawn into comments about whether the policies themselves are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

“I’d encourage her to be very actively engaged with the new government in a partnership based on a culture of evaluation and analysis and a mechanism design view of regulations and the regulatory process of which the RPC is a part. She should strive to remain committed to the concept and values of better regulation and work hard to make those concepts her own – in the committee, in her academic research and teaching and in leaving her mark on the better regulation framework itself.

“If you see how policies are made you can build better regulatory economics models. Regulation is not a matter of feeding a problem into a machine, turning a crank on a machine and ‘solving’ the problem – politics intervenes, economics intervenes, delays intervene, and the things you should be looking for are not always where they should be. For instance, we spent a lot of time worrying about how – or whether – to scrutinise the impacts when government threatens to regulate, business behaviour changes in anticipation and the regulation is abandoned. I think Caroline will find this useful in her academic work, and her teaching.”

Jonathan says that his decade as an RPC member was “fascinating” and saw many changes and developments. He worked hard to encourage the committee to avoid compromising or watering down its opinions for spurious reasons, arguing against “voices that felt we should temporise or give green ratings to things that did not merit them, for the fear that the political cost of refusing would be too high.” Rather than asking if each contested Bill was ‘the right hill to die on’, he tried to sit down with departments to negotiate where possible, and to publish Red opinions where important analytic principles or impacts were not properly acknowledged.

He also became adept at navigating changing political priorities: “I think the biggest lesson I had to learn along the way was how to sail in the direction of better regulation by tacking across a wind blowing from the deregulatory quarter.”

Jonathan also argued strongly for the committee to be allowed to give its opinions at an earlier stage in the policy process: “A few years ago, we only got to look at things when the bills were laid before Parliament, by which time all the decisions had been made. We commented, many times, on impact assessments that were more ex-post rationalisation than a formative influence on the creation of policy – which led to the most tendentious type of data-mining and the temptation to rely on ‘policy-driven evidence.’ Now the RPC is looking at things much earlier in the process, at the options assessment stage.”

In Jonathan’s experience, this particular challenge is not unique to the UK. He said: “I’m very pleased and proud about our international engagement with RegWatch Europe (a network of similar EU scrutiny bodies) our OECD counterpart and OIRA in the United States. I’ve worked closely with them over the years to share best practice and identify common problems, and there has been lot of progress made on this challenge of ex-ante assessment.

“Another challenge is the need to look back and evaluate regulations to see if they have done what they set out to do. I’ve had a long struggle to champion “post-implementation review” and I think we’ve made good progress. The UK is regarded as setting the world standard in this and we’ve been trying to maintain that. That’s been a really good thing.”