Shutting regulator’s website is ‘short-sighted’

The closure of the Environment Agency’s website is going to lead to an information void that will be hard to fill by the one-size-fits-all gov.uk, argues Richard Clarke from Cedrec

The Environment Agency’s decision to shift its web content to gov.uk/environment-agency before closing its website today (8 April) is no surprise, given that all government bodies are doing so. Nonetheless it is a short-sighted move, particularly concerning because important online content could become diluted amid the limitations of a one-stop site. 

The amount of advice and guidance the agency provided through its website was phenomenal, ranging from detailed, technical documents to information on best practice measures. This is now going to change; actual documents will no longer be available, only stripped down, basic online content. It will be very hard for users to tell what has been updated or changed. 

It’s a concern that the government has tried to simplify things too much, and that those writing the webpages just don’t have the knowledge or experience required. Coupled with Environment Agency plans to cut 1,700 jobs over the coming months, it seems likely that it will be harder for organisations to get meaningful and accurate advice.

David Cameron made a bold statement in January about how well his government was doing at cutting “red tape” by removing burdensome legislation, but his claim was somewhat misleading, no acts or regulations related to waste are being revoked, for example. 

Instead, what seems to be happening is that vital guidance that environment managers nationwide rely on every day to make sense of legislation and their legal obligations is facing the chop or becoming significantly diluted. 

You have to ask: how can a document that explains how legislation applies possibly be considered red tape? And how can scrapping such guidance help businesses? 

The simple answer is: it can’t. 

We’ve already seen concerns from practitioners over the low standard of information available on gov.uk and the “Noddy-style” language it uses. Advice given on the changes to rules on carrying waste in January is a good example; it’s too simplistic and doesn’t give organisations the information they need. 

Furthermore, the registers of lower and upper tier waste carriers direct people to other websites, so it’s hardly the “one-stop shop for information” the government is promoting. 

The fact that the Environment Agency is archiving existing guidance suggests that it doesn’t have that much faith in the new system either.

The closure of the Environment Agency’s website is to be lamented and will be a huge loss. The website should have been retained because it is the responsibility of the regulator to provide information to assist companies in complying with legislation, and it looks like other organisations will have to fill that gap now.


Richard Clarke is an environment and safety consultant at Cedrec, which helps to organisations to understand, interpret and comply with environment and safety legislation. cedrec.com

 
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