BRE's location within Government
23. The question of BRE's leverage with Government
Departments is linked to that of its recent move from the Cabinet
Office. We heard a variety of opinions on the impact of the move
to BERR. The BRE's own perspective was that any transitional difficulties
have been resolved.
Save for the comments made in relation to influencing the European
agenda (see paragraph 32 below), the Departments and the HSE indicated
that they had noticed little change, although the DWP observed
that if the BRE became less enthusiastic about addressing burdens
on the public sector and on citizens, DWP would itself lose clout
in helping push that agenda along.
Among the business organisations, the BCC felt that its relationship
with the BRE had warmed since the move.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) took the view that there
was less confrontation, including-perhaps not surprisingly-between
BRE and BERR. The
IoD considered that the jury was still out, but was not aware
of any problems.
24. In oral evidence, the NCC said that it was
not obvious that BERR has the leverage to empower the BRE to influence
behaviour across Government.
However, the Environment Agency took the opposite view: that BERR
Ministers have a voice, whereas within the Cabinet Office the
BRE could have been marginalised. 
25. The TUC had concerns that the relocation
might reinforce the perception held in some quarters that there
was too much BRE emphasis on assisting the business sector. They
argued that the BRE would "have to work extremely hard if
they are going to stay in BERR and establish themselves as a reputable
better regulation authority that is capable of understanding issues
outside the context of the concerns of
small businesses [in
26. The NCC memorandum argued that the move "risks
sending mixed messages to regulators and weakening the power of
the BRE to drive change"
and that "Locating the BRE within BERR may hinder the promotion
of an effective better regulation agenda, given the Department's
present aspiration to be the voice for business."
The Environment Agency's memorandum said:
"We think that the BRE has failed to strike
the right balance. Seemingly distracted by the current emphasis
on reducing the burden on business, it may have lost sight of
how regulation and the outcomes that it delivers can be supported
and made most effective. We would like to see the BRE adopting
a more balanced approach, working more closely with regulators
to ensure that regulatory reform delivers real results. This would
benefit the environment, the public, consumer protection and business,
as well as maintaining credibility and public confidence in regulation."
27. One of the Environment Agency witnesses said:
"I get the sense that the BRE accepts the word of the business
community without much analysis." The Agency had complained
to BERR about the responsible Minister being given the title "Minister
The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS)
memorandum commented: "We feel the Government [should] ensure
that the needs to ensure that businesses are not burdened with
undue "red tape" are fairly balanced with the needs
to protect consumers, workers and local communities from health
safety, welfare and economic harm."
28. When we visited the BRE, we put to Sir William
Sargent the criticism that the BRE is too focused on satisfying
business interests. His response was that he preferred to see
the BRE as being "economy focused". However, in its
oral evidence session, the NCC noted that the BRE website states:
"Life's too short to be bogged down by rules and regulations.
And that's where the Better Regulation Executive comes in
make a positive difference to you and your business", the
assumption being that everyone who visits the site does so from
a business perspective. Even the BCC said that there should be
more emphasis on the case for better regulation at the citizen
or individual level.
29. The House of Lords Merits Committee has recently
expressed concern about potential burdens on business being far
more rigorously assessed than potential burdens on the public
sector. In the Committee's
opinion, that was aggravated by the BRE's move from the Cabinet
Office. The Committee added that it had doubts as to whether public
sector legislation was drafted with the same attention to cost/benefit
analysis as instruments that have an impact on business.
30. The Minister argued that the perception of
preoccupation with business interests derives from the BRE's duty
to point out the business impact of regulatory decisions to Departments
and regulators. Nevertheless,
it seems to us that at the very least there is an approach that
puts business satisfaction at the top of the agenda at the BRE,
and that that attitude might extend into the degree of importance
attached to certain programmes. We acknowledge the importance
of a competitive economy to all sectors, but, as the NCC pointed
out, and as the BRE
consumers and individuals also have an interest in better regulation,
in that they are the ones who ultimately pay the price of bad
31. The Minister emphasised that the Department
is indeed a Department for Regulatory Reform as well as Business
and Enterprise, and took the view that the move to BERR helped
the BRE to "leverage off the relationships of one major stakeholder,
which is business".
However, BERR needs to ensure that the BRE has freedom to take
on the mantle of the balanced regulatory reform agenda that fully
reflects the intention behind the renaming of the Department,
without inappropriate pressure to conform to the business agenda
at all times.
32. In the oral evidence session with Departments,
DEFRA commented that the move from the Cabinet Office to BERR
might have diminished BRE's influence at the EU level. However,
the HSE seemed to suggest the opposite. The Minister was adamant
that there had been no diminution in influence, citing the example
of the BRE's success since the move to BERR in getting better
regulation prioritised within the EU Small Business Act.
The BRE's Chief Executive agreed.
33. Ultimately, on the question of where the
BRE is located, we agree with the concluding remarks of Mr Cullum
of the NCC, who said: "I would agree with the general point
that there is never a perfect solution." He added: "I
am not sure that [BERR] is the ideal place for them but if everybody
behaves in the right way, you could make it work."
Our view is that the real point is one of joined-up Government;
that is, how things are done and how well, rather than where.
In any event, we do not believe that the disadvantages of the
move are so overwhelming as to merit reconsideration at this early
34. Accordingly, we believe that, for the
time being at least, the BRE should remain at BERR. However, we
recommend that the Government take positive steps to ensure that
the BRE retains freedom to pursue a balanced regulatory reform
agenda that serves the interests of all sectors, and that it is
seen to do so.
35. Although we recognise the steps that the
BRE has already taken to engage a cross-section of stakeholders,
we recommend that the BRE review its resource allocations, programmes
and communications and continue to take steps toward achieving
greater recognition of consumers, employees, local government,
the public sector and the third sector, alongside business interests,
in determining the priorities for regulatory reform.