Policy failures often lead to regulatory reform. In a pathbreaking new study the National Economic and Social Council have published their evaluation of the regulatory regime over residential care homes for the elderly in Ireland, examining closely the regime put in place following the Leas Cross scandal of 2005. Serious failings both of provision and oversight at Leas Cross, uncovered in a RTE Prime Time investigation, led to considerable soul searching about the care of the elderly, and the establishment of a new independent regulator, the Health Information and Quality Authority.
The report makes for very interesting reading. Substantively it finds evidence of demanding standards being effectively applied both by providers across public, private and voluntary sectors, and by the regulator. It provides pointers as to how the regime might be further enhanced, but notes that confidence in the sector has already been significantly enhanced. Of greater general signficance is an approach to the research which asks to what extent there is evidence of a search for continous improvement both in provision and regulation of services. Within this analysis regulation is no longer a zero sum game of government imposing costs on businesses. Rather it is a shared process of learning about what can and should be done.
The report is one of a number of reports which NESC is publishing on the regulation of human services in Ireland. Taken together they are likely to offer a sea change in the evaulation of regulatory governance, creating expectations that regulators should be responsive and smart and above all capable both of learning and supporting the learning of regulatees. The approach, developed from cutting edge regulatory research internationally, could usefully be applied across both economic and social regulation as starting point for effectively evaluating regulatory performance.