Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
13 MAY 2008
Q140 Chairman: Is the 25% target
too broad-brush, or does it work for you all?
Mr Gregg: Can I take up on that
one? Defra was considering what it could do in terms of Better
Regulation and how we could respond to the voice of stakeholders
who were saying "There is all this form-filling; reading
voluminous guidance is consuming all our time and we do not have
time to do business"; so I think we anticipated a target
centrally. We looked to a 25% target in the fairly early stages.
It is something that has to be achievable, but it must be stretching;
and 25% is pitched at about the right level: it does not leave
any of us feeling comfortable and it is quite a struggle to meet
that target and make a difference. Too easy a target does not
have that impact and does not help raise the culture changes that
are necessary. I think making it a net target domestically has
really forced us to think hard not only about the flow of legislation
but about our existing stock, because departments do want to achieve
outcomes and do sometimes need new mechanisms to do that; and
therefore anything new that is coming forward we need to find
offsetting savings. I think it has been a very good discipline
like that; and I think the level at which it is pitched is about
right. The unanswered question iswhen we, all four of us,
and our colleagues have succeeded in 2010, what will be next and
what might the expectation be?
Q141 Chairman: That is precisely
what I was going to ask next. Mr Huddleston, let us assume you
hit your targetyou say you are ahead of your target: when
you have hit that goal, what is on the stocks next? What are you
Mr Huddleston: We are planning
to try and exceed the target fairly significantly because although
2010 is the point which we are working to at the moment, if we
look beyond that, certainly in DWP, we have a significant regulatory
burden that will be associated with the new system of personal
accounts, which is due round about 2012. We have roughly quantified
what that burden is going to be. We are trying to get well ahead
of the target so that when we are looking at things in net terms,
we are still staying within that 25% envelope. So our deregulatory
review of private pensions that took place last year has identified
some areas where we can get further savings we think. We think
we can probably get some further savings from further simplifications
to statutory sick pay. All of that is really saying that 2010
is only a date, if you like: if 25% is going to mean anything,
you have to look over a longer horizon.
Q142 Mr Davies: It is a most fascinating
response! Did I understand you to say that actually you were trying
to get ahead of the 25% reduction target so that you would then
have, if you like, some credit at the bank and you would then
be able to regulate some more subsequently without breaching the
25% ceiling: is that what I heard you say?
Mr Huddleston: Not quite but something
similar to that. I am saying this is a net target.
Q143 Mr Davies: It is the most revealing
insight into your office's approach to the 25% target I have ever
Mr Huddleston: Can I clarify?
It is a net target so the idea is to find savings if you are going
to impose costs
Q144 Mr Davies: I can see exactlyif
you set that target, you can play this game; and if you can succeed
in getting ahead of the 25%one would have hoped of courseand
that would be very naive, I knowone would have hoped that
you would have been so committed to the principle of deregulation
for its own sake that you would have wanted to get to 25% and
get beyond and stay improving, getting to 30%, 35% or what-have-you.
On the contrary, what you are doing is interpreting the 25% target
as something which, once you have got to it, once you get above
that, you will then have some credit at the bank and be able to
regulate some more, which is what you really want to do, I suspect!
Mr Huddleston: I do not think
that is what I am saying; it is certainly not what I meant.
Q145 Dr Naysmith: That is the area
that I was going to explore next with all four. Are there plans
already to reduce the flow of new regulation, particularly statutory
instruments, or at least ensure that the net burden is reduced,
because we assume that other regulations will come alongnot
just because there is a gap appearing, but it will probably happen
in the natural course of our activities because that is what we
do in order to introduce laws and regulations? Quentin has already
touched on that, so I will switch to the supplementary. There
appears to be a consensus that influencing European legislation
at an early stage is probably the best way of controlling the
flow of new regulationthe earlier it can be the better,
and achieving Better Regulation as well. Beyond simply agreeing
that it is a good idea, what are your four departments doing to
influence that kind of regulation and statutory instruments and
Mr Wilmore: In the Department
of Health it is mainly around the medicines industry again, where
the European regulations have an impact. We have already seen
some benefits through the savings we have had on the ABR targets
already by simplifying European regulations. We will continue
to work more closely with the BRE to keep a weather eye on where
those will impact on the Department, because much of the regulation
of the health Service is not subject to wider EU regulatory legislation;
it is quite a specialised area that impacts on the Department
Q146 Dr Naysmith: I would have thought
that European legislation on working time has a huge effect!
Mr Wilmore: Yes, sorry, in terms
of working timethat is pretty much played through the service
of the doctors' hours targets now and there are of course implications,
but we do not foresee that changing in the future.
Q147 Dr Naysmith: Even though it
will have a huge effect stilljunior doctors still have
more regulations to come, have they not?
Mr Wilmore: Yes.
Q148 Dr Naysmith: Is it that they
are going to happen, and that is it?
Mr Wilmore: No, no, I am not saying
that. I am saying is that we are aware of the direction of travel
there so we have already got plans in place in terms of the workforce
implications for that. It is not that we are expecting new regulations
that we are unaware of that would impact on us.
Mr Podger: I think the major tide
of European legislation in the health and safety field has temporarily
at any rate abated, so we are rather more in the business at the
moment of trying to, frankly, help our European Commission colleagues
in meeting their targets for reducing administrative burdens.
We have had some success, for example, in relation to the Electromagnetic
Fields Directive, which has now been delayed because we and others
doubt the evidential base for it. We have suggested simplification
proposals to the Commission on directives that are already in
force, which they have actually
Q149 Dr Naysmith: I did not know
about that. Are they bringing in electromagnetic regulations from
Mr Podger: Yes, indeed.
Q150 Dr Naysmith: Even though, as
you say, the evidence base is not very strong?
Mr Podger: Indeed so; and this
has been a cause of considerable difficulty; but we and others
have succeededvery unusually in my experiencein
persuading the Commission to not proceed with their proposal.
Q151 Dr Naysmith: Thank goodness
for that! I am sorry, I interrupted you.
Mr Huddleston: I guess there are
not very many EU regulations that impact on our burdens on business.
Our usual tactic is to get involved as early as we can to head
them off. That is all I would add to that.
Q152 Dr Naysmith: Do you think it
works well? Are your antennae well enough tuned to pick up these
things at an appropriate stage?
Mr Huddleston: These are fairly
few and far between. They tend to be on the pensions side, and
we are in early on those and are very successful.
Mr Gregg: I think it would be
true to say that we are probably quite experienced in the area
of EU legislation. A lot of effort goes in jointly both through
the UK permanent representation from Defra officials back in home
and from the Better Regulation Executive in trying to influence
the European agenda directly with director generalsand
we have had commendable success, I think, in this part of the
2005 UK presidency in getting regulating better on to the agenda.
DG agriculture are certainly right on board; there are very encouraging
signs now from the environment side; and I think we work with
DG Enterprise, which leads on the European 25% target, albeit
that that target is not due to be delivered until 2012 and its
make-up is slightly different in that it is specific about certain
areas of EU legislation, a lot of which Defra leads on. As well
as with the Commission, I think we are increasingly working successfully
with other Member States. Comitology issues mean that the UK alone
cannot achieve anything without support from at least a blocking
minority. A recent example is the proposal on the Soils Directive,
which had impact not just on the Defra agenda but on other agenda
in Government departments. I think there was a slight sigh of
relief that the proposals, as they sat, were successfully blocked,
the UK being part of that, and work is continuing on trying to
find something that balances things better. It is an ongoing collective
effort with other Member States and with the Commission, and with
businessbecause we should not underplay the impact that
business representatives in Brussels can have, both at the UK
level and collectively at the European level in taking the message
to the European Parliament and to the Commission when the ideas
are still at the gestation phase. By the time that the Commission
proposal emerges you could say you are 80% too late, so that early
action is important.
Q153 Dr Naysmith: Is there a good
working relationship between business representatives in Europe
Mr Gregg: There is. We could always
be better, and we could step back and think about the challenge
from Europe. About a third of the flow of new legislation has
sprung from Europe. Looking forward, it is likely to be two thirdswe
have got to take that more seriously and take a step back and
look at the strategy of how the UK engages with the European legislative
machinery. Are we effective in a partnership with business, both
UK businesses but also European businesses? Are we effective with
Member States in getting alliances that are like-minded, so we
talk to others just than the Dutch, who are clear leaders in this
Q154 Mr Davies: How do you communicate
with your stakeholders, including business, to make sure that
they are properly aware of Better Regulation initiatives?
Mr Wilmore: In relation to business,
we work through particular sectors, again mainly the medicines
and pharmaceutical industry, through a roaming initiative and
also for social care providers through representative organisations
such as the National Care Association. With our public sector
stakeholders the main mechanism is a provider advisory group that
sits alongside the concordat I was talking about earlier, which
brings together independent health and social care and NHS provider
bodies and allows them to feed back to us the bureaucratic and
burdensome irritants within the system which they have to face
and their suggestions for reducing that. That is mainly around
overlap and duplication of collection of data. That is a body
that is supported by the Department and the Healthcare Commission,
our deregulatory body which is the formal voice of stakeholders
in health and social care; but we equally have a number of mechanisms
and regular engagements as well.
Q155 Mr Davies: Mr Podger, how do
you make sure that the Health and Safety Executive communicates
with business and victims of your regulations?
Mr Podger: I would not myself
describe people in those terms, but leaving that point aside it
is fair to say that we, like Giles, have quite a variety of devices.
For example, we have a small business trade association forum
which has got 51 members and it is chaired by one of our board
members, Judith Donovan, herself a small business person. They
do therefore get very much of an inside look into HSE and they
are able to make their points strongly and forcefully.
Q156 Mr Davies: How are the 51 members
selected out of whatever it is- three or four million businesses?
Mr Podger: Basically the chair
of the forum, Judith Donovan, who as I say is a board member and
not a member of HSE staff, actually has quietly gathered about
herself as many people as she could from the sector.
Q157 Mr Davies: She selected them.
Mr Podger: She has invited
Q158 Mr Davies: You did not ask people
like the Small Business Association or the CBI or something to
Mr Podger: No, we do indeed do
that as well. Sorry, when I say she selected themin a sense
everybody who sought to join has joined; it is not that we have
thrown people out of the bluewe have made a lot of effort
with small businesses, who are the most difficult people to reach
we find and I do not pretend otherwise. We have also made a lot
of effort working with representatives from businesses in particular
sectors: for example, we have on our website now 29 different
sets of advice on how to do simple risk assessments for small
businesseshairdressers or whateverwhich basically
says, "It does not have to take a long time and it is pretty
straightforward; and this is how you go about it". We try
and use the Web a lot, and I find that small businesses do access
the Web a lot to get basic information. Like other colleagues,
we have major links with all the major organisations, and we form
specific ones on specific issues.
Mr Huddleston: At the highest
level, the strategic level, the Better Regulation Stakeholder
Group chaired by our Minister, pulls together representatives
from the CBI, small businesses, TUC, Association of British Insurers,
to give us a high level insight into the future direction of travel
of Better Regulation.
Q159 Mr Davies: How often does that
Mr Huddleston: It meets with Ministers
on a half-yearly basis and with officials between Minister's meetings.
More generally, I guess, very intensive stakeholder engagement
with businesses occurs on specific policies, for instance the
development of personal accounts; there has been a massive programme
of engagement with businesses, both large and small, to pin down
the issues of design, and similarly we involve businesses in looking
at statutory sick pay as a policy. It is a fairly well-embedded
Mr Gregg: Collectively, in terms
of the Better Regulation agenda, publication of the Simplification
Plan and the discussions that take place with businesses,
and putting them together, is the main communication mechanism.
At the strategic level we have periodic stakeholder workshops.
We recently had one with energy producers where the focus was
on the Better Regulation agenda. There are formal groups such
as our ministerial challenge panel on regulation, which includes
representatives from business. We have recently responded to representations
from the National Farmers' Union and others in relation to land
managers. We have an agricultural monitoring group relating to
regulatory burdens there.