Today marks the launch of a new campaign from The Ecology Trust. Unchecked.uk exists to make the case for proper investment in the enforcement of important rules and protections, and to show what happens when business activity is left unchecked.

Unchecked has investigated the UK’s shrinking enforcement capacity over a number of years, to see whether the hidden heroes who look after our food, environment, animals, local spaces, product safety and rights at work have the right tools for the job.

Our findings indicate that UK enforcers are in a pretty bad way. Across the board, declines in the budgets and staff of national regulators and Local Authorities have had a material impact on enforcement activity. Inspections of businesses have plummeted. Monitoring has been scaled back. Product sampling and food testing have declined dramatically. Prosecutions have fallen. Some businesses can now go for years and years without a visit. Others will breach the rules repeatedly, safe in the knowledge that the resulting fine will barely scratch the surface of total business profits.

This should be of concern to each and every British citizen. The health of our enforcement teams is hugely relevant to us all, whether we notice them or not. Our day-to-day lives are underpinned by the expectation that certain things will operate safely and smoothly, without requiring any input from us. This set of assumptions forms the backdrop to many ordinary activities. We believe our card payments will be secure. That our food is safe, our water is clean, and our trains, planes and buses are trustworthy. We hope that our kids won’t get sick from contaminated school meals or harmed by toxic chemicals in their toys. We trust the medicines we take and the products we buy. We trust in the safety of our workplaces homes, and our childrens’ schools.

Sensible rules – and the bodies which ensure they’re adhered to – keep Britain functioning. The continuing erosion of their capacity, year after year, is making it harder for them to do their jobs and putting ordinary people and the environment at risk.

The human costs of weak enforcement are stark. The Unchecked team has collected the stories of many people who have been affected by a failure to enforce the rules. We spoke to the parents of two-year-old Persephone, whose lungs have been permanently damaged by air pollution and who fights for breath alongside wards full of other children. We spoke to the father of six-year-old Joanna, who tragically died after eating meat contaminated with E. coli O157. We spoke to many individuals who told us of the decline of local rivers and natural spaces. Behind each story lies a crisis in enforcement. Air pollution inspections by local authorities in England and Wales have fallen by 39% in recent years. Local food teams spend 34% less on food safety than ten years ago. Water pollution sampling and checks on natural spaces have fallen sharply.

At Unchecked, we think the erosion of UK enforcement capacity is short-sighted and out of step with public opinion, and our supporting organisations agree. Over the coming months, we’ll be looking into the causes and consequences of the UK’s enforcement gap in different areas of everyday life; including food standards, environmental protection, animal welfare and product safety. We’ll work with civil society organisations to make the case for strong protections. And we’ll carry out research into what people really think and feel about enforcement of the rules. We welcome any thoughts, comments and ideas, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share.

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Today marks the launch of a new campaign from The Ecology Trust. Unchecked.uk exists to make the case for proper investment in the enforcement of important rules and protections, and to show what happens when business activity is left unchecked.

Unchecked has investigated the UK’s shrinking enforcement capacity over a number of years, to see whether the hidden heroes who look after our food, environment, animals, local spaces, product safety and rights at work have the right tools for the job.

Our findings indicate that UK enforcers are in a pretty bad way. Across the board, declines in the budgets and staff of national regulators and Local Authorities have had a material impact on enforcement activity. Inspections of businesses have plummeted. Monitoring has been scaled back. Product sampling and food testing have declined dramatically. Prosecutions have fallen. Some businesses can now go for years and years without a visit. Others will breach the rules repeatedly, safe in the knowledge that the resulting fine will barely scratch the surface of total business profits.

This should be of concern to each and every British citizen. The health of our enforcement teams is hugely relevant to us all, whether we notice them or not. Our day-to-day lives are underpinned by the expectation that certain things will operate safely and smoothly, without requiring any input from us. This set of assumptions forms the backdrop to many ordinary activities. We believe our card payments will be secure. That our food is safe, our water is clean, and our trains, planes and buses are trustworthy. We hope that our kids won’t get sick from contaminated school meals or harmed by toxic chemicals in their toys. We trust the medicines we take and the products we buy. We trust in the safety of our workplaces homes, and our childrens’ schools.

Sensible rules – and the bodies which ensure they’re adhered to – keep Britain functioning. The continuing erosion of their capacity, year after year, is making it harder for them to do their jobs and putting ordinary people and the environment at risk.

The human costs of weak enforcement are stark. The Unchecked team has collected the stories of many people who have been affected by a failure to enforce the rules. We spoke to the parents of two-year-old Persephone, whose lungs have been permanently damaged by air pollution and who fights for breath alongside wards full of other children. We spoke to the father of six-year-old Joanna, who tragically died after eating meat contaminated with E. coli O157. We spoke to many individuals who told us of the decline of local rivers and natural spaces. Behind each story lies a crisis in enforcement. Air pollution inspections by local authorities in England and Wales have fallen by 39% in recent years. Local food teams spend 34% less on food safety than ten years ago. Water pollution sampling and checks on natural spaces have fallen sharply.

At Unchecked, we think the erosion of UK enforcement capacity is short-sighted and out of step with public opinion, and our supporting organisations agree. Over the coming months, we’ll be looking into the causes and consequences of the UK’s enforcement gap in different areas of everyday life; including food standards, environmental protection, animal welfare and product safety. We’ll work with civil society organisations to make the case for strong protections. And we’ll carry out research into what people really think and feel about enforcement of the rules. We welcome any thoughts, comments and ideas, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share.

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Follow us on Twitter

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