Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2001
CB AND MR
140. One or two members have mentioned once
or twice the working families tax credit and I have had exactly
the same complaints from small businesses in my constituency,
a florist contacted me, about half a dozen small businesses contacted
me and complained that they were having to do the work for the
working families tax credit. Presumably that was never thought
through very well. Or I suppose it might have been thought through
and that might have been deliberate. That caused a lot of harassment,
did it not? A lot of problems.
(Mavis McDonald) Even in cases like that there is
scope for discussion about just exactly the implementation
141. How important is early thinking?
(Mavis McDonald) Early thinking about the way in which
you take forward a policy proposal is very important.
142. When is non regulation action just not
sufficient? What is to stop self-regulation and a voluntary way
of going about it. Why do we need RIAs in the first place?
(Mavis McDonald) We are not coming to a clean slate.
We have an historic development of the processes whereby regulation
has been developed to achieve various ends including quite a lot
of it protecting health and safety of people at work or lives.
143. What are the consequences if it is not
(Mavis McDonald) The consequences can vary from at
the starkest unnecessary illness for example, but they could range
right through to regulation having a significant impact on the
competitiveness of individual firms without anybody having understood
thoroughly that was going to be the impact of a policy change
which involved regulation. Our guidance does say you do not have
to regulate in all circumstances. There might be alternatives
which are equally valid where the compliance with the alternative
will have much greater impact in achieving the end result you
want to make. I suppose the one which is always quoted is ABTA
or the role of the General Medical Council but there are examples
of that kind where self-regulation can equally be a valid form
of achieving a policy objective.
144. What would you say the benefits of it are
if it is done properly?
(Mavis McDonald) The benefits of it are getting a
better balance between the desired end result and the cost of
getting that desired end result which take into account the real
result you want to achieve, whether that refers to a whole sector,
a whole group, a whole industry and really understanding the nature
of the kind of regulation you may need to achieve that end result
and how tight or loose that regulation needs to be, or just thinking
you will do this, it is a good way to do it. The report has examples
of where people thought one way was a good way to do it and then
finding it was completely over the top. Opening up and eliminating
that process is showing to have real benefits coming through.
145. Moving on to a different angle, in consulting
with businesses there are big businesses, there are medium-sized
businesses and there are small businesses but increasingly there
are the self-employed and sole traders. How are they affected
by this? Is anything being done as far as they are concerned?
(Mavis McDonald) Part of David's remit is to help
find ways in which those individuals are not excluded from the
definition of small and medium-sized enterprises. We ensure that
their views are caught in any consultation we have here.
(Mr Andrews) We have three categories we cover. There
are people who belong to things. If you belong to the Institute
of Directors or whatever then you can feed your views into us
through them. There are people who are particularly affected by
proposals who may have an interest, whom we are aware of and who
identify themselves to us. That very often happens. There are
people who complain. A lot of our work is meeting people who have
complained to us about regulation. If someone writes to us or
e-mails us and says we have a problem, then we will talk to them
and sometimes visit them and go through the problems and look
at ways in which we might respond. It is very important to us
that we capture as wide as possible a range of interests. We do
not just round up the usual suspects, we actually look at a much
wider group of business people.
146. You have inferred that small businesses
are constantly complaining about the time which is being taken
up with bureaucracy. During the General Election I remember meeting
small businesses and that was one of the biggest complaints they
had. Consultation is very, very time consuming.
(Mr Andrews) Yes.
147. How important is it that as much time as
possible is given for them to be consulted before any decisions
(Mr Andrews) That is absolutely crucial. There is
really no point consulting people after decisions have been taken.
That is simply unfair. It wastes their time. It is disrespectful
148. That was not really the question I was
asking. That is obvious. I sometimes think that is what consultation
is. I am getting very cynical as I get older; in fact I was very
cynical when I was younger as well. That is not really what I
am asking. How important is it that they go well in advance so
that consultation is genuine consultation?
(Mavis McDonald) Our code of guidance on consultation
generally suggests that 12 weeks ought to be the minimum time
which departments are allowing when they go out to consult. It
is also encouraging people to think of different ways in which
they do consult, including going out there, and not just relying
on a paper process and the return, to get people's views.
149. One or two quick questions and some quick
answers to them please. Have government departments instituted
training courses on the makeup and implementation of RIAs?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes, is the answer to that. We do
that. There is nothing to stop an individual department doing
it but we through our seminars and workshops also provide that
150. Do all government departments have access
to relevant lists of appropriate business organisations?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
151. Are there inter-departmental discussions
and seminars on the effectiveness of RIAs?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
152. Good. I also understand that the DTI is
to be reviewed shortly. What role will the Small Business Service
play in the future of RIAs?
(Mr Andrews) I hope we will have a stronger role.
I hope we shall continue to develop that role and to expand it
and make it more effective.
Mr Steinberg: It is not the most rivetting of
subjects, is it? I cannot say I have sat here this afternoon and
listened to every word that has been said. How do you make it
153. How do you make government more interesting?
(Mavis McDonald) One way of making government more
interesting is opening it up and talking very openly about what
the processes are which are involved and then engaging people
in discussion about options in a real sense very fully. There
is growing evidence, not just in this arena, but if you take something
like the way in which the Social Exclusion Unit, for example,
has developed the techniques it has used to consult people who
would not normally be drawn in, then people do get excited and
engaged and happy to talk about their own experience at all kinds
of levels and find it quite liberating.
Chairman: Mr Williams is going to try to make
government more interesting with one or two further questions.
154. Just a couple of thoughts. Have you costed
your own operations?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes, we do cost our own operations.
155. What has been the range of costs? What
has been the highest cost and for what, in carrying out one of
(Mavis McDonald) I do not know what an individual
department's highest costs would be. I would expect it to be one
or two of those rather difficult areas where they have had to
go out and pay consultants to do some of the more difficult backup
work on the cost benefit analysis. We can give you some examples
from any data we have.
156. Do you have any top-of-your-head figures?
We are not going hold you to them too tightly. You can put a note
(Mavis McDonald) No, I do not have any top-of-the-head
157. Just to give us a guide. This is probably
a random irrelevant thought. It is all very well and good doing
these assessments as far as government legislation is concerned.
What happens as far as private members' legislation is concerned?
When Ministers come to the box to answer whether they feel Government
is able to accept or not accept a proposal put forward by a backbencher,
will there have been a RIA?
(Mavis McDonald) May I take advice on that?
158. Of course you can. We do not mind who answers,
so long as we get an answer.
(Mavis McDonald) Not unless it had previously been
a Government proposal is the answer.
159. If we take something which is and is not,
like foxhunting, would one have been done? We know Lord Burns
did some assessment some time ago, would that have been using
the Treasury model or the Treasury guidelines or green book or
whatever you referred to earlier?
(Mavis McDonald) If the Government brought forward
a specific legislative proposal, then it would have to have a
RIA with it or give evidence as to why it did not need a RIA.