Examination of Witnesses (Questions 121-139)|
13 MAY 2008
Q121 Chairman: Welcome, gentlemen. We
have a lot of questions for your organisations to answer today.
If I cut you off at any point, please feel free to follow up in
writing. You will get the flavour of the themes we are trying
to gather information on. Some of my colleagues will be coming
and going as well, as there is an awful lot happening today. I
want to ask all of you about your experience of working with BRE,
what value it has haddoes it have the right people; is
it organised in a way that helps you; and does it talk to you
enough? For my own convenience, I will start to the left with
you, Mr Wilmore, and move across, just posing those introductory
questions to you.
Mr Wilmore: Thank you and good
morning. From the Department of Health perspective, we have a
very positive relationship with the BRE. We have a good day-to-day
working relationship with the officials there. They have worked
hard to understand our agenda and the particular issues facing
health and social care, which are often very complex in a regulatory
environment. Generally speaking, we feel that the balance between
being a critical friend and challenging, offering advice and support,
and the generic learning we can pick up from having a central
government point of expertise works well; so we would generally
say "yes" to your question. The relationship works well
and the process does add value, and it allows us to promote the
Better Regulation agenda with a bit more teeth across the Department
and within the sectors that we work with.
Mr Podger: Chairman, our experience
in the Health and Safety Executive is pretty similar. Currently,
we have very good relations with the BRE, both formal and informalwhich
is also important. We have ourselves seconded staff to the BRE,
which is a measure of confidence. Obviously, the BRE does play
a challenge function in relation to us, which we accept and have
no problem with; but inevitably it means that from time to time
we do not agree, and I think that is perfectly proper.
Q122 Chairman: Can you give examples?
Mr Podger: We have had quite a
number of discussions with BRE in relation to inspection of premises
and the value of inspection. They, quite understandably, tend
to come from a business perspective, which is not, shall we say,
over keen on inspection! We ourselves, although in no sense manic
inspectorsI would stress thatdo see a need to use
inspection both as an advisory tool but also as an enforcement
tool; so there are certainly areas for legitimate argument.
Mr Huddleston: I would agree very
much with the broad thrust of my colleagues' remarks; it is a
positive relationship. Also it is worth saying that it is tailored
to the particular challenges that we face. Our relationship has
evolved over time, as the Better Regulation agenda has broadened
into areas beyond business. We have a range of day-to-day contacts
with account managers to more formal arrangements with Better
Regulation Executive colleagues sitting on our Better Regulation
Stakeholder Group, which is chaired by our Minister. Quite often,
the Better Regulation Executive, meeting bilaterally with, say,
policy folk, leading on pensions and issues like that, would get
directly involved in the thinking about policy. Certainly over
the couple of years I have been working with BRE, I welcome the
flexibility of finding the right relationship for the right challenge.
Mr Gregg: Since I took up my current
role in July, I think my experience would point to BRE as being
a driver both in direction and pace in terms of value and assisting
driving the development of common shared strategy across Whitehall,
producing mechanisms that enable read-across between departments
and co-ordination of where pressure points are likely to be felt.
I think their role, as voice of business, can be very helpful
in that it backs up our own attempts to get out and manage effectively
our stakeholders. In terms of the right people, for an organisation
of a hundred they have some very senior people in there, with
a good mix, including from the business sectors. I think that,
too, is helpful, to bring that reality and real experience, which
may contrast with some of our officials. In terms of whether they
talk enoughyes, they make every effort to talk and, more
importantly, to listen.
Q123 Lorely Burt: There we are; we
might as well all go home then: everything in the garden is completely
rosy! Mr Wilmore, in your memorandum you talk about alerting each
other when support is required and you have positive examples
of where the partnership approach taken between the BRE and the
Department of Health have successfully identified priorities for
action, and facilitate the Department to deliver tangible benefits.
Can you give us an example or two of that?
Mr Wilmore: There are two main
areas in relation to both private sector and public sector. Obviously,
as the Department of Health, most of our activities are public
sector related. Most of the work we have been doing with the BRE
is related to the public sector strategy over two or three strands.
One is reducing duplicative and unnecessary data collections from
the NHS, where we have achieved about 10% reduction already. This
is quite a complex agenda given the range of data that is collected,
the uses of it and the lead-in times being quite long to change
that. That is one example. We have also had a lot of support from
the BRE in developing what we would call a concordat arrangement,
which is led by our main Health Service regulator, the Healthcare
Commission, which brings together users of information from the
Health Service to try and avoid duplicate and overlapping inspections
of data collection as well. They have been very supportive in
facilitating that process and setting out the cross-government
context with key stakeholders.
Q124 Lorely Burt: Defra sent a copy
of its partnership agreement with BRE, and that sets out working
on matters such as information-sharing, targets and monitoring.
Is your concordat something similar to that?
Mr Wilmore: The concordat is more
about the relationship we, as a department, facilitate alongside
BRE with our various regulatory bodies under the bodies that have
a need to visit and inspect and collect information from the Service;
so it is not a direct comparison. We do not have, as a department,
a formal partnership arrangement with BRE. Things have worked
generally well and we have not felt the need to have that.
Q125 Lorely Burt: You have not got
anything that formally framed your relationship with them.
Mr Wilmore: Not in the way of
a formal partnership document.
Q126 Lorely Burt: Can I ask the same
question to Mr Huddleston about how you frame your relationship
because you do not have a partnership agreement, as I understand
Mr Huddleston: We do not, and
I think that reflects on what I was saying in answer to the first
question. There is a flexible relationship tailored to the challenges
we face. Within the Department for Work and Pensions we have a
fairly broad-based commitment to Better Regulation, particularly
on the pension side, but more broadly in terms of the benefit
system itself and the burdens we place on citizens and front-line
staff. In that instance, where we are seen as going with the flow,
actually having a detailed concordat is not really necessary.
I guess I make the distinction between almost a principles-based
approach to the relationship than a rules-based approach. We both
know the outcomes we are trying to achieve; let us get on and
do it and not bother too much about the detail of agreements.
Q127 Dr Naysmith: Should the Department
have one major strategic vision or should it presume a number
of goals based on expediency and what is likely to get results?
Are the BRE's expectations of departments realistic, and does
it have a coherent strategy and firm grip of the objectives?
Mr Gregg: Absolutely so. Certainly
my experience of attending the board level Champions meeting is
that collectively departments work with BRE to develop that strategy,
but we are still in relatively early days from their formation.
The challenges get greater in terms of what we have to do for
business, and that strategy has got to be responsive. It is true
to say that there is a feeling sometimes of initiative overloadhave
we got the priorities right, because resources are tight and if
new developments come forward somehow we have to take those up?
Departments can challenge back when there are ideas. In answer
to your key thrust, yes, there is a coherent strategy in that
we are trying to find the right mechanism collectively for balancing
the needs of protection versus the burdens that that creates for
Q128 Dr Naysmith: You are quite clear
it has one strategic vision and you are in no doubt about that?
Mr Gregg: The strategic vision
falls within that objective, a shared objective: we are collectively
trying to achieve our outcomes, and in terms of Better Regulation,
it is "better" regulation. Regulation itself is certainly
for Defra the main plank in how we seek to achieve our outcomes.
Mr Huddleston: I would agree with
most of that. The overall vision the BRE is putting forward is
a clear one and is certainly shared with the Department for Work
and Pensions. That embraces not just the ambitions and not just
reducing unnecessary burdens on business, but also burdens in
the public sector and on citizens, which is where we have been
going. Overall, the approach, which is to have a series of initiatives
dealing with elements of that vision, is the correct one. So you
have an approach that tackles the stock of existing administrative
burdens; you have an approach to try and slow down or mitigate
the flow of new burdens; and then you have issues such as common
commencement dates, which are ways of making a reality of some
of the simplification activities. Overall, it is right to have
a series of initiatives. I do not think you can bite off a strategy
as big as Better Regulation with one initiative. It seems to me
they are coherent. I think the pace at which they have been coming
has been great. It has been a challenge, but we have responded
positively and effectively to that.
Mr Podger: I generally agree with
what Trevor has just said. It is quite right to have an over-arching
goal for BRE in reducing unnecessary burdens on business and peopleI
do not think any of us could object to that. The key point though
is how you do it, and what is appropriate will inevitably vary
from one sector to another. That is why if one just has a one-size-fits-all
approach, for example to try and regulate on the basis of a mathematical
quantification of risk, which is something that sometimes occurs,
that fails completely to take account of issues around public
perception, issues around public expectation, which also have
to be faced. I would just say that I think the over-arching goal
is fine. I think it is perfectly proper for BRE to see to intervene
in different ways in different sectors.
Mr Wilmore: I support the fact
that there is a clear vision. It is about Better Regulation, and
in health and social care is very important to distinguish between
Better Regulation than just cutting regulation. We envisage a
strong role for regulation in health and social care to ensure
people receive quality of service. Our experience of working with
the BRE is that through the annual reduction targets and other
initiatives, there is a clear framework in which there is an expectation
the departments will work towards thatbut we are not told
how to do it, so we have a constructive dialogue about the areas
we think we can reduce the regulatory burden; but equally we will
come back sometimes and say that there are areas where we think
we might need more regulation because there are new risks coming
along. We have that dialogue on a constructive basis within the
framework that we are trying to promote more risk-based approaches
and a more proportionate approach to regulation.
Q129 Dr Naysmith: The British Chamber
of Commerce representative suggested to us that there should be
a more robust approach to the policing of departments. That raises
the question of what the BRE's role should be in relation to its
various customers, clients and stakeholders. Should it be a policeman;
a think-tank; a deliverer; a teacher, or any of these things:
what should its role be? Should we agree with the British Chamber
Mr Podger: From the Health and
Safety Executive's perspective the one thing which is important
is that we are an independent regulator accountable to a board,
indeed a board created by this committee. I think it is their
role to monitor us on a day-to-day basis. We make a huge amount
of information public. We certainly provide a lot of information
to BRE. We do not have any problems with occasional initiatives
like the Hampton Compliance Review that they have just done. However,
it is important that we preserve a structure whereby bodies are
accountable to their own management and through them to Parliament
and the public; not that they start an alternative line of accountability
off to colleagues in BRE because I think that would only lead
Q130 Dr Naysmith: Should the BRE
step more into the role of ideas generator now, instead of being
a policeman and monitor; should it be generating ideas rather
Mr Podger: Clearly, the RRAC is
a young body so we do not know quite what it is going to do. I
certainly agree that there is a role at the centre forif
I might put it this wayperking up ideaswhich is
not always easy for those of us who have operational commands
to do on a day-by-day basis. I think that is certainly a part
of the role. I think it should not just be drawing up, frankly,
rather complex administrative issues.
Mr Wilmore: I would support that
in terms of balance being as much about a centre of excellence
and learning from the experience of other centres. Inevitably,
there has to be a method of monitoring and evaluating success,
but I would not want to see that as a policeman role. After all,
we are Departments in the same Government, working for shared
objective, so we should be allowed to regulate our own effectively
and be challenged on that. I think that is the right kind of balance.
The specific comments from the Chamber of Commerce are probably
more difficult for the Department of Health to respond to in the
sense that we have minimal involvement only in one or two key
areas with the commercial sector where we have already made quite
good progress and have good working relationships, say, for example,
with the pharmaceutical industry on regulatory initiatives. We
feel that we can demonstrate progress in those areas anyway.
Mr Gregg: I think it would be
a mistake to force BRE into the role of enforcer. Their added
value has come as facilitator because Better Regulation is not
something that is being imposed on departments; it is a wish for
departments to regulate in a better way to achieve their outcomes.
The facilitation role is important; the visionary role, making
sure that we share that vision is important. Some consistent monitoring
around how departments are performing so that we can communicate
our successes is absolutely vital to maintaining support. I think
the annual publication exercise of the simplification plans, where
departments are required to report on how they are going against
the specific measurable targets and how we are achieving progress
culturally in the way we think about the need for intervention
and how to construct those.
Mr Huddleston: One thing I found
useful is related to the policeman role; it is essentially looking
across all of the regulatory activity across departments, and
identifying best practice where perhaps one department is a little
ahead of another, and drawing that to your attention to say, "these
have had success in this area; why do you not try that?"
That has been quite useful to us particularly when we have been
thinking about reconstituting our Better Regulation Stakeholder
Group. That has been a positive aspect. I also think that across
Government there is a broader mechanism for looking at performance
in this area, which is of course public service agreements and
the delivery board that oversees that. That is a useful mechanism
in the round for saying, "Are we, as a community, making
Q131 John Hemming: Within that context
is it a better idea for the BRE to look at the individual impact
assessments or more widely on how departments are handling things
from the point of view of training et cetera?
Mr Wilmore: I think the BRE's
input in revising guidance and broad support on how to do good
impact assessments has been very good because there is no point
having a department reinventing a slightly different way of doing
that; so I would support that; but beyond that I would not support
the BRE scrutinising individual impact assessments. I think the
departments should manage that and encourage them to promote the
importance of that within their department; and that is a key
part of the mechanism of challenging whether regulatory proceedings
are adding value and not adding unnecessary burdens.
Mr Podger: I take essentially
the same view. I think it is very important that Better Regulation
is embedded in all of us; it is not something that can just be
enforced on a day-to-day basis by BRE, coming from the outside.
Whilst I think it is quite right for them to pioneer and lead
things off, I think it is perfectly proper that once they are
bedded in it should be entrusted to departments to be accountable
Mr Huddleston: I agree with that.
I think the consistency that the impact assessment approach gives
is very useful and very welcome. The training supporting that
was very effective. I do not think there is a great deal of mileage
in the BRE actually scrutinising all the impact assessments. The
role that Chief Economists have got within departments to sign
off the quality of the analysis is sufficient internal policing:
it gives you a commitment to rigour.
Mr Gregg: I very much agree with
Trevor's last point. It has been extremely valuable to have support
on the training side in terms of getting the policy officials
that are doing the work to think about impact assessments and
what they really mean. In Defra we have put something like 600
of our policy staff through impact assessment training, and the
process has proved to be a really useful culture-change tool.
I do not think that scrutiny of individual impact assessments
by BRE would add value especially given the Chief Economist's
sign-off procedures; but I do think the establishment of the central
repository to the impact assessment library is a useful step forward.
It has only just started and there are very few impact assessments
on there at the moment; but that will become a useful tool for
departments and for businesses and the general public.
Q132 John Hemming: Where would you
put BRE now it has moved from the Cabinet Office? Does that help
or hinder; is it a good idea or not such a good idea?
Mr Gregg: It is a difficult one.
Looking at it domestically, one has to think what sort of message
are certain stakeholders taking from that, in a department where
there is a voice for business: could one read it as BERR needed
some reform more than the four Departments you see in front of
us? I think it is useful from the context of BRE being closer
within the Department to the realities of picking up on the challenge
that collectively we set ourselves. Perhaps in relation to taking
forward the European agenda, it might be more difficult for BRE,
embedded within a delivery department, to establish a strategic
relationship with key opinion-makers in Brussels. That is something
that collectively we are working hard at to improve.
Mr Huddleston: I certainly have
not noticed any change in our relationship since the move to BERR
took place on a day-to-day level. Things are progressing very
well and effectively. We share the concern about perceptions.
Is it the case that this could be seen as downplaying the importance
of burdens on the public sector and citizens, which is the particular
area the Department for Work and Pensions is interested in? I
guess I would say that in the DWP we have so much internal commitment
and so many drivers for those agenda anyway that the BRE is, if
you like, more of a critical friend than somebody driving us along.
However, I could imagine circumstances in the future where if
BRE were a little less hot in that area, we would lose a little
bit of clout in the Department potentially to help push this along.
One of the roles that the BRE plays for us is that it makes everyone
aware that this is an important agenda, and it helps us spread
that message within the Department.
Mr Podger: I think we, frankly,
noticed very little difference since the move to BERR; in fact,
it seems to have been a very smooth transition. From our particular
perspective of the Health and Safety Executive it impacts most
on the business community and rather less so on wider public issues.
For that reason, we do not have the problem that other colleagues
have drawn attention to. My own view is that it is also perfectly
possible for BRE to exercise their European functions, to which
we attach a great deal of importance, and within BERR there is
a lot of activity going on there.
Mr Wilmore: Likewise, we felt
the transition was very seamless. We noticed no practical change
in our working relationship with BRE since they became part of
BERR. Again, the biggest risk for us is the perception of the
Department largely in public services, that people will think
the emphasis is predominantly around regulation of commercial
and business sectors and it is less interested in public sector;
but the reality of our experience is that that is the position
BRE takes. It is equally interested in promoting Better Regulation
in the business sector, so we need to do work to ensure that our
key stakeholders understand that message, that we are not sidelining
Q133 John Hemming: Does anyone have
a strongly-held view as to whether HMRC should be brought within
Mr Podger: No.
Q134 John Hemming: Is that "no"any
view at all? No comment?
Mr Wilmore: Again as the Department
of Health, we do little direct business with HMRC in terms of
the sector we represent, so we have no direct experience, I am
Q135 Chairman: Can we move on to
your own work in the field of Better Regulation, specifically
the Administration Burdens Reduction Programme? As, Mr Huddleston,
your Department is perceived to create the greatest number of
admin burdens, at least in the eyes of my constituents, I will
start with you! Are you on target to meet your 25% admin burden
reduction programme by 2010?
Mr Huddleston: Yes, we are.
Q136 Chairman: Why do you think there
is not a perception that Better Regulation is genuinely reducing
burdens? I deliberately frame that question in that way: all of
us, as Members of Parliament, will see attempts that have been
made to, for example, improve the design of DLA application or
whatever; but none of us have seen the real re-engineering of
business process that would radically change the volume of admin
burden both for the department and for the client.
Mr Huddleston: The first point
I would make is that the Administrative Burdens Reduction Target
we are referring to meeting is administrative burdens we place
on business, which is largely via pension regulation and via statutory
sick-pay regulation; so this, if you like, is the form-filling
that accompanies policies to increase pensions saving. You are
talking about the wider definition of burdens, which
Q137 Chairman: I just have a feeling
it might be endemic in the Department.
Mr Huddleston: It is certainly
the case that the benefits system is a very, very complicated
system, but we do have a range of activities going on in departments,
a lot of them driven by our own self-interest to start to chip
away at that burden. For instance, we have been simplifying our
suite of leaflets to improve quality and consistency of the leaflets.
We have been moving to more telephone-based claims, particularly
for benefits for pensioners, which allow more benefits to be awarded
in the course of a single telephone conversation. Then we have
this very ambitious programme, which we call the "lean initiative"
in the department, which is asking our front-line staff, who administer
our processes, to take the process of, say, claiming benefit,
apart, break it down into its constituent parts and work out which
of those parts are actually needed. There is a very, very strong
push within the Department to simplify both the benefits of our
products and the way we deliver them. That is going to be a long-term
ongoing activity. With reference to the Administrative Burdens
Reduction Target, there we have made some progress in reducing
some of the information obligations we place on pension schemes.
We have done some work to deal with some complex statutory sick-pay
issues and we have been doing some recent work to look at the
employers' liability compulsory insurance issue with retention
and display of certificates. In that sort of area, where we have
a specific measurable target, I think we will achieve it.
Mr Gregg: We certainly are on
target. We have seen the 2007 Simplification Plan: Cutting
Red Tape. The current estimate is 29% by our 2010 due date.
In terms of the difference, perception is the biggest challenge
that faces all of us. In looking at how we can take forward the
agenda and how effective what we are doing has proved to be for
our stakeholders, we do go out and consult. On a fairly small
scale, in January we asked 15 representative organisations and
sent a short questionnaire asking: "Do you know about this
regulation; do you think Defra is doing okay at it; have you spotted
any differences?" It was quite interesting that although
we only had six responses, it was a very tight timetable. All
six came up with, "Yes, we have noticed a difference"
and they all came up with an example, and there were six different
examples. They are not major in themselves, but in the numerous
sectors that we deal with, those small differences are starting
to build up. Things like an environmental permitting programmethe
major simplifications that are engaged in there will take time
to be really felt. It is only when you go out with specific examples
to business and say, "Do you remember yesterday you used
to have to do this; and today you have to do this" that you
get a positive response. If you ask for a general feeling, then
business memory is fairly short when it comes to improvements
that Government is able to bring about because they face day-to-day
pressures like all of us to find more.
Q138 Chairman: I was impressed, Mr
Gregg, with a process that your Department is responsible for
on the Solway Firth that has very deeply brought together the
environmental needs of your own Department and those of the DWP
and HMRC in managing cockle-picking there, by introducing a very
neat licensed bag in which people collect things. Is that kind
of cross-departmental activity central to your thinking?
Mr Gregg: It certainly is, particularly
when faced with challenges like that, where you have a relatively
new organisation, a licensing authority, but there are many players
both in central departments and at the local authority level as
well. An agenda like climate change is something where we do not
have armies of people who can solve that particular problem; we
are entirely reliant on co-operation, including with BERR on the
energy front from other departments, but also in terms of the
response from business and the general public. It is one of those
areas where the non-regulatory response, the communication/education/persuasion
route, stands to make nearly as many dividends for that agenda
as the regulatory route; so this co-operation and working together
is increasingly important.
Q139 Chairman: The Minister told
me the other day that the Dee Regulating Order, which has been
long outstanding, will be coming shortly, and I look forward to
efficient design on that as well!
Mr Wilmore: We feel we have made
good progress on the ABR Target; we are about half-way to meeting
the 25% target and we are comfortable we will do that. Most of
the gains to date have come through regulatory efficiency savings
around the pharmaceuticals and medicines industry, and particularly
the Better Regulation Medicines Initiative, which has involved
a lot of joint working with the business community in the pharmaceutical
industry to streamline and improve regulatory process such as
online applications, simplification of medicines labelling procedures
that allow companies to get medicines to market earlier and so
on. That has had a lot of support and won an EU Cutting Red
Tape award in 2007, so we are very confident that that programme
will continue to deliver further reductions in regulatory burden
as we start to look at how that applies to other areas such as
prescribed medicines and generic medicines. The other main area
that the Department has involving the business sector is around
social care, and particularly in care homes for older people and
other forms of adult social care, where we are starting a process
of reviewing the national minimum standards and funding regulations
that apply to social care providers, to simplify those and make
them more outcome focused and less based on prescription and input.
We expect to make significant savings by 2010 from that initiative
Mr Podger: Just to complete the
picture, I ought to confirm that we are ourselves also on target
in relation to the Administrative Burdens exercise. On a perception
point, to follow on from what Richard was saying, I think it is
an inherently difficult question to ask people, to say, "Have
you noticed the difference?" for the simple reason that people
will notice it differentially in different sectors; and, second,
inevitably, as happens to all of us, as soon as one thing takes
slightly less time each day something else takes more; and therefore
people do not find themselves with spare time on their hands as
a result of these initiatives. That does not mean to say these
initiatives do not have considerable impact. I think they do.
Our own experience within the Health and Safety Executive is that
people who have got to deal with us are generally quite appreciative
both of need for the regulation, but also the manner in which
we enforce it. I think problems become greater in terms of wider
public misunderstanding of the so-called "health and safety"
problem but that goes well beyond what the Health and Safety Executive
itself is responsible for.