Responsibility for managing risk


Cabinet Office/HM Treasury: Principles of Managing Risks to the Public


Government will seek to allocate responsibility for managing risks to those best placed to control them.

Government, where possible, will ensure that those who impose risks on others also bear responsibility for controlling those risks and for any consequences of inadequate control. It will aim to give individuals a choice in how to manage risks that affect them, where it is feasible and in their interest to do so and where this does not expose others to disproportionate risk or cost. It will seek to clarify where responsibility for managing risks rests and that those responsible have the authority and information to act.


Strategy Unit's Risk: improving government's capability to handle uncertainty

2.4 governments have a regulatory role in providing the legal framework where the activities of businesses and individuals give rise to risks to others.
2.6 Governments will not normally intervene where individuals take risks voluntarily and where they alone are affected. In these circumstances, governments have a role in ensuring that individuals are aware of their responsibility and of the consequences of the risk that they are taking. There is often room for argument about precisely what falls under this definition. For example, smoking, driving without a seatbelt or undertaking dangerous sports are risks that are taken voluntarily and mainly affect the person taking them.
However, they may also indirectly impose costs on others, for example to the taxpayer through the cost of medical treatment.
2.7 Where risks taken voluntarily have direct or indirect consequences for others – for example, other road users, the taxpayer or the environment – government may intervene through regulation or other means to limit or control that activity. Examples include setting road speed limits, or legislating to require the wearing of seatbelts or to restrict tobacco advertising. The issues involved are often complex – for example, over the regulation of tobacco advertising – but the political and legislative processes ensure that any legislation to restrict activities that involve risk receives proper scrutiny.
2.8 In addition, governments will seek to ensure that those who impose risks on others bear the cost of the consequences of the risk.
2.10 In many cases, it will be up to individuals or businesses to manage their own exposure to such risks where they have the knowledge or capacity to do so – for example, through the lifestyle they choose or the investment decisions they take.
4.1.11 The lack of explicitness about risk issues and their management is a key concern. This undermines accountability and means that there is often no auditable trail of judgements about risks, making it impossible continuously to review risk judgements.
5.18 … public concerns are likely to increase significantly where the issues are unfamiliar or where the consequences inspire dread, regardless of the likelihood of the hazard. Other studies have identified that people are more likely to accept or tolerate risks where they feel that they are taking them voluntarily or that they have a say in how the risks are managed.
5.43 Where Departments have policy responsibility for handling risks that directly affect the public, they should consider the scope for increasing the availability of choice to individuals, supported by relevant information and advice.
Annex 4: key factors when looking at judgements of risk
Degree of control and is the risk voluntary or imposed:
In general, people are more likely to accept the consequences of risks that they take willingly, and are therefore within their control, than risks over which they have no choice.