Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
29 JANUARY 2008
Q01. Chairman: Can I welcome you,
Mr Sargent and Mr Kohli, to the session. Mr Sargent, we last met
talking of these things on a pan-European basis in Berlin; there
is a dimension to that to which we will come later. The Committee,
for various reasons, is on a fairly tight timescale so we want
to handle this fairly crisply. Thank you for your memorandum that
you sent to us. I would invite you to start off by adding any
words to that but we have a series of questions we would like
to pose to you. If you would introduce yourself and introduce
Mr Sargent: Thank you very much,
Chairman. I am very pleased to be here. I am William Sargent and
I am the Chair and Jitinder Kohli is the Chief Executive of the
Better Regulation Executive. We have been in position now for
about 24 months so we are rather pleased that this is an opportunity
for us to explain and to give some profile to the work that we
are doing. Before I start perhaps I could comment on our Minister?
Baroness Vadera is not with us this morning and sends her apologies.
The actual identification of the portfolios was only finalised
yesterday and I know from chatting to her yesterday at some length
she is rather keen to engage with the Committee in discussion
but felt that it was too early for her to be of any useful contribution
in that. She is hoping she will be able to do so at a later date.
So I table her apologies before I start. As I said, Jitinder and
I have been in position ourselves for 24 months now in an active
role. The document that we gave you I feel lays out effectively
what we are trying to do. We are looking very much at taking the
word "red tape" and breaking it down into its constituent
elements in terms of how we go about the business of enhancing
the environment in which we work. We start with some very clear
principles in place in that regulation is a good thing, is a positive
thing in society and in particular in the business community.
I come from the private sector and Jitinder is a highly experienced
civil servant who has been across four different departments in
the government; so we work as a team and we are very clear that
what we are trying to achieve is better regulation, by which we
mean that regulation is in place to achieve benefits, protections,
to encourage fair marketsnobody wants to operate in an
unregulated society in terms of the business community. It creates
a level playing field in that, and clarity of regulation is very
important to us. So we start with a very clear mandate that we
are not here about diluting protections, obligations, rights,
anything like that; we are about ensuring that the amount of regulation
that is introduced and produced and exists is done in a very clear,
coherent way and does not create unnecessary costs or burdens
for people on the receiving end or the people who are actually
responsible for administering them in the organisations, in the
public, private sector and third sector. So we are very clear
about that particular perspective. You very kindly laid out a
statement that you wanted us to give you and I hope that the memorandum
has covered all those areas, and I think it might be best to go
into the specific questions and for us to respond to you.
Q02. Chairman: Leading on from your
introduction, do you think that the UK is an over-regulated state?
Mr Sargent: I do not in terms
of the context of my own personal experience. I have over the
past decade set up and run businesses in Germany, Spain and the
UK and now currently in the UK and the United States and I am
very clear from running a business that has gone from 40 people
to 750 people that my operation in London is somewhat less heavily
burdened by regulation than the one in New York, for example.
People hold up America as the bastion of things that are supposed
to be a light touch and easy, but the fact of operating on a daily
and weekly basis is that things are much more difficult in New
York City than it is in Soho in London, is the observation I have.
When I look at the evidence across the world, when we look at
other countries and I look at the World Bank and OECD and we are
currently ranked sixth in the world out of 178 countries, I feel
that we are in a good place. However, it is important not to take
that for granted because things move on all the time.
Q03. Chairman: Is there, therefore,
an optimal level of regulation? Following from that, the target
of 25% reduction by 2010 seems a bit of an arbitrary target. If
we are not over-regulated what is the point of that target? Is
there some objective measure in that?
Mr Sargent: The target refers
specifically to a part which is the administration costs relating
to regulation. There was an example where we were able to get
our analysis and be very tangible and to analyse costs of specific
forms of information that had to be given either to shareholders
or consumers or the government itself, and we found that when
we looked at the evidence around the worldand the Dutch
and the Danes in particular had been ahead of us on this particular
areathat first of all setting a target was very important
and it clearly achieved behavioural changes within departments,
so it was very important to set one. The experience we saw of
the Dutch in particular, we had the benefit of them being three
or four years ahead of us so we could actually see that setting
a target was achievable and it was a reasonable target to set
to achieve certain behaviours and by setting it the evidence has
proven, as I say in Holland, that this is something worth going
Mr Kohli: Could I just add exactly
what the target attaches itself to? This is the target of the
administrative burden as opposed to regulation as a whole and
we defined the administrative burden following the experience
of the Dutch government by measuring requirements in law to provide
informationthat could be information through filling in
a form, which is the bulk of the burden, through complying with
an inspector or either waiting for an inspector to turn up or
preparing bits of paper for an inspector, or it could be providing
information to third parties. It is a very defined concept of
regulatory administrative burden and broadly the government takes
the view that it is possible to reduce this number whilst at the
same time maintaining outcomes. If we could design forms in an
easier way that were easier for people to make sense of whilst
at the same time make sure that planning decisions, let us say,
to take one example, are still taken on a sound basis, then that
would be a good thing for everyone. That is why we are tackling
this particular area; and the 25% number I think is a pragmatic
number in terms of your question.
Chairman: I am going to go slightly outside
our planned structure because one of our colleagues has to be
in two places simultaneouslyone of the problems of Parliament.
Q04. Lorely Burt: Good morning. I
want to ask about the deregulation initiatives that you have introduced
already. I would like to ask you about the monitoring of the success
of these. Post-implementation is always a big concern I suppose
to MPs because we do not see a great deal of it and what we do
see is patchy in terms of the physical reviews, so can I ask you
what steps you are taking to monitor the effect of deregulation
and to undertake post-implementation reviews? What evidence do
you have to support the success of other specific initiatives
on the reform agenda as a whole?
Mr Sargent: Deregulation is one
of the powers that apply to the agenda to do with better regulation.
The way it evidences itself most is in the simplification plans
that all the authorities produce. So 19 departments and agencies
have produced at the end of 2006 and the end of 2007 plans which
specifically say, "These are the areas we are going to simplify"
and some of those you would call deregulation where they are moving
on simplifying some elements there. For example, the Health &
Safety Executive has about half the number of forms it had, so
that would be an example of deregulating to some extent. When
they produced the 2007 plans, which is the second year, part of
the requirement that we put on them was to report on what had
happened as a result of the 2006 plans and the intention is that
that would carry on so that we would see at the end of this year,
for example, reporting on what happened in the measurements. There
were 741 measurements identified to simplify in general and 270
of them approximately had already been done during 2007, so in
2008 you will see reports on what happened in 2007 and 2006. Each
department is responsible themselves for publishing that and for
anybody from Parliament through to the various communities to
look at them and say, "Has it happened, has it not happened?"
So our view is very much that monitoring is done by the public
at large, so to speak. That is my first observation.
Q05. Lorely Burt: So that is great
that each department is monitoring so that it has these targets
and can say, "Has this happened or has it not happened?"
Are they looking at yes, it has happened and the effect upon the
target audience has been X or Y in terms of the amount of time
or the cost factor? And has the target audience actually been
consulted in any systematic way in order to create an evaluation
that you can actually measure?
Mr Sargent: These were generally
put together in the first place by visiting, consulting and doing
focus groups and involving people and in general most departments
had structures in place, whether they be boards that they put
together of interested parties, and they then test those ideas
against them, and in turn both ourselves as the Executive as well
as the departments and people who are measuring the performance
will validate whether the claims that they are making are true
or not. The challenge that we have, which I think is possibly
the next step of where you are heading, is has the community at
large, the business community or the charities felt that difference?
That, I think, is the bit that we have yet to crack effectively
because I was very anxious that we only spoke about success once
we could prove it and I feel that these implementation plans give
us the tools to be able to say that we have actually done this.
The bit that we now need to do is to pull through by getting the
business community in particular to say, "I notice that you
have a number of this or that," and that is I think where
we are yet to be fully effective.
Lorely Burt: That really will be your
ultimate measure of success, will it not, if you get the sometimes
curmudgeonly business community to say, "Actually that is
quite good; that is being helpful." I know one of my colleagues
want to elaborate on that, so I will leave it. Thank you very
Q06. Dr Doug Naysmith: I just want
to ask something that is related to that fairly quickly, Chairman.
One of the tools for deregulation and regulatory reform is this
Committee and it can regulate and deregulate. The government has
always seemed to be a little disappointed that we do not get through
more deregulatory orders or regulatory reform orders as they would
be now and they tend to blame this Committee and say that the
Committee does not get through enough work. In fact we have never
ever in six or seven years held up any orders that were before
us; it is usually because the civil servants and the departments
do not bring orders forward to us. Do you first of all agree with
our analysis? One of the things that is sometimes said is that
it is more sexy politically to tack something on to a Bill and
do it through the House of Commons than coming to this committee.
What do you think about that?
Mr Sargent: The answer is I think
that part of what you are referring to is more the media, I think,
than the government's perspective per se, so I do not agree
that criticism lies with this Committee. What I would observe
is that the legislative tools which have been put in place, of
which this Committee is part of it, are only one part of how you
deal with matters. Let me give you an example. If you look at
the NAO report the priorities for people on the receiving end
of regulation is to get effective guidance, to be consulted properly
in the first place, to design the laws right in the first place,
and we are having a significant amount of success; there are 741
measures that have been now identified that do not require that
particular form of deregulation to happen. So it is there when
it is needed but the reality is that generally we can achieve
a saving, we can achieve the results without having to use fairly
precious Parliamentary time, would be the observation I would
make. But it is there because it is one of the half dozen tools
that we use.
Mr Kohli: I think it would be
honest to say that the time governments allocate to primary legislation
is always scarce and some of the issues which are within our remit
would struggle to get some of that time. That is not always true
and indeed there are Bills before Parliament right now which will
improve the experience of public sector workers through the public
Q07. Dr Doug Naysmith: My point is
that this Committee could be used much more than it is currently
and ought to be.
Mr Sargent: There are approximately
20 orders in planning of which I think one has already come through
and four are in consultationjust finished consultation.
Q08. Chairman: Nowhere near us yet!
Mr Kohli: I think we are expecting
one more to be laid in the next few days on health and safety.
Mr Sargent: Momentum will begin
to pick up now.
Chairman: We hope so.
Q09. John Hemming: I think the big
question is this one of what is regulatory reform and how do you
deliver it. If we look at your list of items of success, for instance,
some are clearly very good in terms that they are regulatory reforms;
other ones, such as having fewer rail franchises, I am surprised
that you got involved in that, I am surprised that anyone thinks
that is a regulatory issue. As far as people outside the state
are concerned, things like preventing people rolling cheeses down
a hill because you cannot get insurance whilst they are rolling
down hill to the bottom is an issue that indicates over regulation;
similarly, censuring a member of staff who rescues somebody from
falling down a cliff is an issue of regulation because if a voluntary
organisation is pressurised by government into stopping its staff
rescuing people when their job is to rescue people something is
badly wrong. Within that context what is your strategic provision
for dealing with regulatory reform?
Mr Sargent: If I can start with
your first observations? There is a significant amount of bad
reputation that regulation gets and some of it is caused by the
vacuum. Health and Safety is quite often used as an excuse by
people, which is nothing to do with regulation if people cancel
events because they do not want to spend the money. So quite often
one of the things that certainly concerns us is to sort out their
education of regulation because it is a fundamental positive activity
that happens. And misinformation has caused quite a lot of problems.
Touching on areas where there are examples, the approach that
we have to regulatory reform is to break it down into effectively
five strands of activity. If we start with the stock of regulation
the administrative burden project is an example of that where
we look at what is there. We are looking, for example, at the
moment, at doing a consumer overview of health and safety to see
where it is that we can work with those departments and agencies.
So the first thing is that we look at the stock and say what is
it that now we know what we know and experience we have and evidence
from talking to people in surveys that we can actually improve
it? That is the first thing. One of the strongest drivers of perception
regulation is the flow, the material that is flowingnew
initiatives from Europe as well as from the UK. There we work
with the departments and work with them to try to establish the
principles and to make sure that they are going about it the right
way. For example, the impact assessments, we introduced a new
format for that back in the spring and is an example to make sure
that that dialogue is straightforward and effective and it provides
members of Parliament with the tools to challenge government effectively.
The next bit is one that I feel is going to be the long-term success,
which is the culture and the behaviours. In that area, for example,
the people who are responsible on the groundinspectors
and people who are enforcing local governmentthat is the
sharp end, so to speak, of regulation, and we will find the Hampton
Review conclusions in that, and we will talk about that later
on. In Europe about two-thirds of the regulation flow in many
parts of the economy comes out of Europe and there we are engaging
pretty effectively. For example, the recent 25% targets for administration
costs there that we were very instrumental in helping to achieve.
So we have broken it down to these constituent elements, so to
speak, and have a strategy for each one.
Q010. John Hemming: This really does
come down to the point that your organisation is clearly structured
for dealing with the EU, dealing with government but not dealing
with people outside government and issues like how high should
somebody be allowed to go up a ladder has a wide impactthat
is a regulatory process. It is unclear where that issue comes
in but it has quite an impact on all sorts of thingslike
parades, for instance, involving road closures. All of these things
link lots of different aspects of the government and everyone
says, "Not me, guv, it is somebody else who is stopping this
happening." It does appear that your priorities and your
allocation of resources is to do with things within the state
and not anything that is initiated outside; you are not doing
inquiries into why can the scouts not parade any more.
Mr Kohli: I am not sure I would
agree with that. We are absolutely responsible for the government's
agenda to improve regulation and that includes the protection
of regulation. So it is absolutely one of the things that I am
concerned about within my organisation, how do we ensure that
businesses and voluntary groups and public sector workers do not
feel that health and safety laws, which I suspect is what you
are referring to
Q011. John Hemming: Insurers as well.
Mr Kohli: ... act as a constraint,
which is why we are working with the Health & Safety Executive
to do a review of health and safety law.
Q012. John Hemming: You are working
within the government, you are not actually working outside.
Mr Kohli: I am not sure I would
agree with that either; as an organisation we have spent an incredible
amount of time going out and about talking to real businesses
on the ground. Many of my staff on a typical weekpeople
have been out in the last few weeks to visit publicans to get
a sense of the things that concern publicans. Not in the day,
I hasten to addrather in the evening! People have been
out with regulators on inspections. I have personally done a number
of inspections with regulators but I always make time to spend
time with the business afterwards to get their sense of how it
feels. So I just do not recognise that picture of our organisation.
Q013. John Hemming: Where things
are initiated is the question. The implication of what you are
saying is that although you may consult people about things that
have been initiated within your organisation you are not having
things initiated outside the government in a wider sense.
Mr Sargent: We are. Let me give
you examples. Whenever we interact, as Jitinder said, we do a
significant amount of visits and engagements with businesses and
other organisations. For example, with a supermarket this week
I have asked them to specifically come back to me with specific
ideas about things that are barriers. So in the course of most
weeks I will meet with businesses of various sizes and shapes
and we then get correspondence from them and I challenge them
because for me this is something I expect the business community
to take as seriously as we do. We have put a portal
in place for people who want to give us specific ideas and the
emphasis is always on, "Do not just say that employment regulations
are false, you have to be specific." So over the past 12
months we have had a significant amount of ideas through the portal
and a significant amount of ideas from letters from specific individuals
as opposed to lobby groups. I am always very interested to get
to the actual people on the ground rather than necessarily lobby
Q014. John Hemming: Is there a way
of tracking that, which shows that these are ideas suggested outside
the BRE and this is what has happened?
Mr Kohli: It is not something
that we just track; it is something we want everyone to track.
Q015. John Hemming: Transparency.
Mr Kohli: And that it is visible
to Parliament. One of our hopes is that Parliament will take a
stronger role in scrutinising whether these things have been tackled
Mr Sargent: So we encourage people
to put it on the portal and the answers are then public and if
they are not any good then people can be criticised for not putting
very good responses on that, and they have to do it within 90
days; and if they fail to meet 90 days it is not us who is saying
it, it is up there.
Q016. Gordon Banks: Just on that.
I have run a small business since 1986 and, quite frankly, I have
been too busy running my business to become involved with an organisation
such as yourself. So when you mention that you have a portal in
place that is fine but how do you tell me when I am 450 miles
away that you have a portal in place? Because you have not told
Mr Sargent: If you are a member
of one of the trade associations from the CBI through to the local
industry ones it would be very rare for it not to have been promoted
through those associations, so that deals with those people who
are active members. The more difficult challenge is getting to
people who do not partake in any of these groups.
Q017. Gordon Banks: Which are actually
a lot more than people who are members of any kind of organisation.
Mr Sargent: In my own business
experience I come within that category because it covers a minority.
Let me give you an example. There is an initiative, common commencement
dates, so that new regulations come into effect on two dates of
the year, and one is coming up very shortly, in April, and the
idea there is to make people aware of everything that is coming
out that is new and therefore will impact on them, and to do it
in a coherent way rather than getting it piecemeal all over the
place. We have given ourselves a challenge to reach a million
businesses in the coming one, and we have identified various techniques
to do it, emailing being one key way of doing it. These days it
is a lot easier to find the tools to get through to someone like
yourselfnormally by emailand then to do it in a
way which is coherent, like one page which then has links. So
for us moving from the situation where we could not get through
to a small business to getting through to a small business is
a key target that we have and I would like to think that if we
have this conversation in 12 months' time that I could actually
prove to you that we had got through to one million businesses.
I cannot at the moment but that is certainly part of our aim.
Q018. Gordon Banks: There is nothing
worse, you will appreciate, than being bombarded with a range
of information which is not relevant to your businessand
I have had. Before you get to the bottom of page one and the end
of page 12, which is actually relevant to you, it is in the bin
or it has been deleted. I have argued that government and organisations
such as yourselves should be able to target the regulation, to
match the regulation that matches the business. So I am in the
construction industry, I need to know about general business regulations
but I also need to know specifics to the construction industryI
do not need to know about the disposal of fridges and freezers.
Mr Sargent: I agree.
Q019. Gordon Banks: I think that
is the real target, how do you hold it down to make it relevant
to the person that you are trying to reach so that they will first
of all say, "This is important to absorb" and freely
Mr Sargent: Again if I come back
to the construction industry, it is a place that has fairly good
lines of communication into people who work in it. I feel that
is obviously the tool that people are trying to view, are desperate
to build up and try to make effective and I think a lot of the
overhaul over the last 18 months on that has made it a more effective
way of signing up for it themselves, who are not part of trade
associations. I would like to feel, going forward, that that is
going to be the most effective way for someone like yourself going
on there and saying, "I am in this sector, this is what I
want to know about," and it will turn up. That is one of
the channels that we are using.
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