Memorandum submitted by LACORS
1. The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of
Regulatory Services (LACORS) is an established local government
body working with and on behalf of local authority associations
across the UK. We aim to facilitate best practice and consistency
in the enforcement of regulatory services provided by local councils.
LACORS is committed to the improvement agenda in this area. LACORS
also works to influence legislation to ensure that the requirements
of local councils are understood, and Government policy can be
2. LACORS works with all councils across
the UK in a number of key regulatory areas, including environmental
protection, animal health and welfare, trading standards, food,
health and safety, licensing, gambling and private sector housing.
3. This response is being submitted by LACORS
on behalf of all 4 UK local government associations (ie Local
Government Association; Welsh Local Government Association; Northern
Ireland Local Government Association and the Convention of Scottish
local Authorities) as far as BRE policy impacts in each of the
4. We have formulated our response in relation
to the initiatives and areas of work where local councils have
been engaged with the BRE and anticipate the summaries of what
we perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses in the areas concerned
will inform the Committee and assist it to answer the questions
posed. The Committee Secretary had specifically asked us for input
regarding the Retail Enforcement Pilot and the LBRO so we have
5. We welcome the committee's focus on this
area of work as we feel regulation and better regulation are important
not only to businesses but also to consumers, workers, and local
communities. We feel the government needs to 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. We are pleased to see that this need was recognised
by both the Chairman and Chief Executive of the BRE during their
6. The BRE has in particular focussed on
local authority environmental health and trading standards services
and set up a new government body, the Local Better Regulation
Office (LBRO), covering England and Wales, with proposed statutory
powers over local councils (currently it is not yet clear if and
to what extent LBRO will impact or have powers over Scottish and
Northern Irish councils). For England and Wales, we remain concerned
that there is little evidence for this specific focus on these
services and the need to spend additional public money in "controlling"
them. We understand from previous survey work that businesses
find centrally based regulation, particularly relating to employment
law, VAT and Inland Revenue to be the most burdensome and yet
no similar body has been deemed necessary. We also note that the
government set the LBRO up in summer 2007, with an annual budget
circa £4 million, prior to any legislation being debated
in parliament about the role and remit of its powers.
7. We remain concerned that some of the
BRE activity in relation to councils does not really reflect the
strategic direction of modern local government. In England, the
recently signed protocol between central and local government
focuses on localism, local area agreements, the reduced indicator
set and the new CAA process as the process by which councils and
central government agree outcomes and performance management.
This seems to run against the direction that the BRE/LBRO are
going. NILGA in particular has concerns that it also runs against
the outcomes of the government's review of public administration
which is designed to improve and offer more powers to local government
in Northern Ireland.
BRE MANAGED HAMPTON
8. We have welcomed the role BRE has played
in carrying out reviews of some of the central government regulators
as part of its Hampton Implementation Review programme. Representatives
of local government and LACORS itself have participated in all
of these reviews in some form or another and this open and inclusive
approach has been most welcome.
9. The BRE's work to deliver the governments'
national priorities for regulation in England was a success. This
is something we had been asking of governments for some years
but until the BRE commissioned Peter Rogers to undertake this
work, nothing had been achieved. The outcomes of this project
were clear and well communicated to councils to consider as part
of their business planning processes. Most authorities had said
that the Government national priorities were local priorities
in most cases anyway so it made it easy to incorporate these until
10. We have also welcomed BRE's influence
in ensuring that the government's national priorities for regulatory
services have been largely recognised in the new reduced national
indicator set in England.
11. One concern was that over 90% of councils
who had responded to the LACORS survey on national enforcement
priorities said that they had not noticed a change in the type
or volume of initiatives/requests on regulatory issues coming
from other central government departments and agencies since the
national priorities had been set.
12. We recognise all government departments
seem to be working on simplification plans for their legislation
and they have been fully engaging local councils, via LACORS,
in this work. However at this point in time there have been limited
outcomes beyond those simplifications which were already in train.
This could simply be a feature of the time it takes but there
seems to be a lot of resource focussed on process.
13. We hope the new Legislative Reform Act
will make making simple changes to the regulatory agenda simpler
and quicker to achieve than has been possible previously. Previously
LACORS and the Department of Health both wanted to make a minor
amendment to the Cancer Act in England. This simply removed the
need for councils to seek the permission of the Director of Public
Prosecutions before taking action against businesses making false
cancer curing claims on their products. Councils were not required
to do this for any other piece of legislation they enforce and
it was not deemed necessary. However to make this one simple amendment,
which no one objected to, took almost two years of discussion
between us and DH officials, plus the need to submit and justify
the change to a level completely disproportionate to the change
being proposed. We accept this was under the "old" regime
but under the new process we are working with defra to secure
a minor change to the Animal Health Act which would allow one
council to have their animal health service delivered by a neighbouring
council (in the same way it can do for almost all of its other
services). Again central and local government have agreed this
is desirable and adds no new burdens, it will not affect the farming
industry other than to deliver a more consistent enforcement landscape
but there is still a plethora of paperwork and impact assessments
to be completed which seem disproportionate to the simple change
being required. Once the new process had had a chance to properly
bed in LACORS would suggest that a short review be undertaken
to see how many changes have been able to be made using this process
and whether the process can be made simpler and more efficient.
14. We do however still seem to be asked
to participate in discussion about new legislation were we have
questions about its need, value and enforceability. The BRE's
role in this could be helpful but needs clarifying within Government.
Recent examples include suggested retail bans on products made
from illegally sourced wood and those relating to certain types
of fur products, where we are saying it is best to control these
at point of import to the UK, not to burden business and local
councils by trying to enforce at retail level, something which
is almost impossible to prove once the importation paperwork is
no longer available.
15. The BRE have been clear about the need
to consult properly in order to achieve effective regulation,
and for government departments to provide timely guidance to help
businesses and enforcement authorities understand the new requirements.
Local government fully supports both of these aims but on occasion
they are not adhered to.
16. There does seem to be some overlap with
BRE's overarching strategy to deliver better regulation, and individual
regulatory reviews which are taking place at the same time. For
example BERR is about to issue a fundamental review of consumer
law and policy for the UK. The review of the legislation itself
does not cause a problem but we understand a significant part
of the work will be about reviewing the enforcement landscape,
and this will be done before the LBRO (which was set up to tackle
the alleged problems the trading standards enforcement) has even
been given its statutory powers. Similarly in England and Wales,
defra is mid way through project to improve the delivery landscape
for animal health work, which will similarly be subject to LBRO
powers once they come into force. Clarity about the linkages between
these reviews and the broader work of the BRE and in particular
the LBRO would be welcome.
17. LACORS has been positively engaged in
the work BRE is doing to review health and safety burdens on SMEs.
We were initially concerned that one of the drivers for the review
seemed to be dubious media coverage which blamed regulators for
illogical "elf n safety" decisions but we are particularly
pleased to note in Jtinder Kohli and William Sergeant's earlier
evidence that they do recognise this mis-reporting as a real issue.
The work of the group to date has been very positive and has fully
engaged local government.
18. The above project is designed to promote
joint working and reduce the number of inspections to retail premises
by environmental health and trading standards staff. We have been
supportive of the concept of the project but the costs/benefits
to local councils have never been fully assessed or evaluated.
We also feel that the project has been a little prescriptive which
has made it hard for some councils to participate even though
they had wanted to. We hope valuable lessons will be learned from
the current phase of the process and that a proper cost/benefit
analysis to both councils, as well as businesses, will be undertaken.
This will allow local councils to take an informed judgement as
to if, and how far, they would like to participate in this initiative
19. At the recent LACORS/CIEH conference
it was heartening to hear that the Government is now focussing
the evaluation of the REP project around better data sharing rather
than as a prescriptive regime about how to conduct inspections.
20. Local government welcomed the Macrory
review of sanctioning powers and one of the government better
regulation themes has been to reduce the amount of criminal proceedings
for regulatory matters and deal with them by alternative sanctioning.
However as the Regulatory and Enforcement Sanctions Bill progressed
through parliament we do remain concerned that without the requisite
rights of audience for local authority officers in the civil courts,
without the ability to recoup costs effectively and with the amount
of additional "safeguards" being built in around the
use of these new sanctions by councils, this they will not be
a real alternative to criminal cases for most councils in England
21. We have been asked to give oral evidence
at 9.30 am on 20 May. We are pleased to accept this invitation.
At this stage I can only confirm one witness which will be Wendy
Martin, Director of Policy for LACORS (email@example.com).
We are likely to want four places in total with the three others
being two councillors from LACORS and LGA and an additional officer.
I will let you have these names as soon as possible.