Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200-219)|
20 MAY 2008
Q200 John Hemming: Your interest,
as LACORS, is more concerned with the impact on local government.
Ms Martin: Yes, local government.
Q201 John Hemming: Although you are
not unconcerned about other things.
Ms Martin: No.
Councillor Sutton: There is definitely
a timing issue here. We are in a very swift moving picture with
a move from CPA to CAA, different indicator sets, driving away
a plethora of over 1,200 performance indicators, which we slavishly
do return on, based on 35 outcomes, for which local authorities
will negotiate with government departments on why, and proving
what those priorities are for local communities.
Q202 John Hemming: Going back to
the question of over-regulating the deregulation, was that something
from the start, when it was in DTI, or did it come in at a later
Councillor Sutton: Formerly I
was Chairman of the Trading Standards Qualification Council and
four years ago we were having talks with DTI officials about having
one set of indicator returns, the same set, for all government
departments. Sadly that seems to have moved away. With this structure
that you are looking at now, I hope that does not fall away to
the wayside as well. I do not think you can underestimate the
amount of local authority time costed. Sometimes we wonder why
some of those returns are required, where we could shift those
resources to delivering outcomes.
Ms Martin: To follow up on the
management of the REP, the prescription emanated really from day
one. That was not something that the BRE imposed.
Q203 John Hemming: The DTI brought
it in but the BRE kept it.
Ms Martin: Yes.
Q204 Phil Wilson: The Department
for Work and Pensions has claimed that it is already delivering
reductions in data requests from local authorities. The target
by 2010 is 30% and they think they are going to go beyond 30%.
On the ground, what is happening in reality?
Councillor Evans: In reality,
no. I do not think it is being manifested at the moment. We have
undertaken a survey of local authorities only last year. About
90% of them feel that there has not been any reduction in the
information being requested by the departments. It is working
well, I think, from the perspective of the local authorities in
England in terms of the performance indicators, et cetera. We
have seen that reduce from about 1,200 PSIs to 198 community outcomes.
That is a step in the right direction. However, we do get asked
still for a lot of ad hoc information from different government
departments, et cetera, which is taking up a great deal of time
and which has manifested itself in local authorities saying, "No,
we haven't seen a reduction in the request for more information."
Q205 Phil Wilson: You question that
Councillor Evans: Yes.
Councillor Sutton: From my perspective,
I definitely see a move towards that. Let us remember that CAA
does not come in until 2010, so we are still in the throes of
the old CPA inspection regime. We are only just starting to pilot
through all the different agencies, the Audit Commission, HMIC,
HMI, this new sort of single regulatory body which is going to
oversee things but it has not yet transpired. We can see the process
is being put in place. We can recognise those at a professional
level. But, going back to the original question, how does it feel
politically at the local level for local authorities, it is too
early to say. It is something that I think needs constant watch.
Q206 Phil Wilson: Do you think the
better regulation agenda is starting to deliver a lighter regulatory
burden on data requirements?
Councillor Sutton: As far as the
members are concerned, we have already alluded to the fact that
90% of member authorities do not think they see any reduction.
Sometimes we question some of the returns that are required. Very
often we are told that the detail and nature of the return required
is driven by the EU. We do not know whether that is the case.
Are you looking for a gold standard? Is it a statutory requirement
to have that gold-plating return or can there be some reduction
in the detail of those returns? Will the 198 local outcomes drive
that process or not? A question for you: Do some of the departments
need to have the gold standard EU return, which they purport to
want, or is it necessary? That may well have quite an impact on
addressing the regulatory burden.
Q207 Dr Naysmith: All of you have
said there are things that the department requires you to provide
in the way of data and various other things but you are not sure
of the relevance of it and you are not sure why it is required.
Have you ever drawn up a list of these things on which you have
questions and submitted it to the department? Or could you do
that for us?
Councillor Sutton: Yes. A lot
of that has been
Q208 Dr Naysmith: I mean formally,
demanding a response.
Councillor Sutton: Yes. I am Vice-Chairman
of the Safer Communities Board. We have central local partnership
meetings quite often. Part of the outcomes of those was to drive
down the number. It started with a number of performance indicators,
convincing ministers that that these were resources that we were
questioning. Why do you not trust locally elected politicians
to deliver what local communities need? Then we got to the 198
indicatorswhich are not performance indicators, they are
real measurable outcomes of how our communities feel about the
way they are being governed, protected through consumer protection,
through health and safety law, all those issues. Again, we are
in this process. We perhaps need to have this discussion in 12
Q209 Dr Naysmith: You know what you
think is unnecessary. Do you get a reasonable response and a discussion
about why government thinks they are necessary? Or do you get
change without really knowing why it is happening?
Councillor Sutton: I think we
are very happy that we have gone from 1,200 performance indicators
to various government departments, to 198 community outcomes.
Q210 Dr Naysmith: You are saying
that you have submitted these things, you have had a response,
and you are happy with it, and there are still some outstanding
Councillor Sutton: We are in transition.
We are probably going for the next 12 to 18 months, as we take
this transition period from CPA to CAA, of perhaps feeding two
different systems as they morph into the new system. That is a
matter of concern for us.
Q211 Dr Naysmith: But you are hoping
that at the end of the process there will be a lighter burden.
Councillor Sutton: Absolutely.
We can see that. It is something that through the LGA we have
lobbied for and we are quite pleased that we have had those changes,
but they have yet to manifest themselves.
Q212 Dr Naysmith: But you have had
them, so they must be manifest.
Councillor Sutton: No, we know
what they are. The process is changing.
Q213 Dr Naysmith: You are not there
Councillor Sutton: Keith was saying
that 90% of local authorities feel that the demand is still the
same. We need to have this conversation perhaps in 12 months,
when we have done the transfer. We hopewe hopethat
the answer will be positive: "Yes, there is a reduction."
Q214 Judy Mallaber: You have another
chance now because the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill
is up in the Commons tomorrow, so this is rather on time. Can
you tell us what your views are on the current format of the bill?
Ms Martin: We have had a fairly
standard position on the bill all the way through the Lords. There
are a number of things that concern us in relation to the bill
as a whole. They are, I guess, focused around two issues really.
The key strategic one is the additional control mechanisms being
put on local environmental health and trading standards authorities.
The Government decided to set up the Local Better Regulation Office
with a focus on improving controlling local environmental health
and trading standards services. As an outcome of the Hampton Review,
which was about helping businesses, we had always had the question
about why all the focus on environmental health and trading standards.
Whilst accepting improvements can always be made and burdens can
always be reduced, there did not seem to be the same focus around
that which research would suggest small businesses find more problematic,
like VAT, tax, and employment law, so there was a concern about
the need for this new body, with its budget of over £4 million
a year, to do that specific thing. We have been successfully in
discussions with the BRE, and this was part of the negotiating
process, the fact that the engagement does work well around there
was some discussion and move around the original proposals about
the LBRO having much more directive powers over local government
to say, "You must do this and you must do that." That
has been negotiated to a much more reasonable position in our
view. We still have concerns about new statutory processes being
put in place, new arbitration mechanisms that we are not sure
are necessary. One of the concerns, to which Andy alluded earlier,
is that we are starting in a sanctioning regime of almost an agreed
position. The BRE's position, government's position, was that
they wanted local authorities to have a broader range of sanctions
to be able to deal with regulatory breaches so it did not automatically
mean having to take somebody to court. The local government perspective
wanted those broader sanctions, but a range of amendments have
now in our view meant that those sanctions are very difficult
to use. The likelihood is, if the bill goes through as it is currently
drafted, that local authorities may not use those sanctions now
and will revert to the original position of their pre-existing
powers. That is one of those difficulties that can occur, because
there are different interests, different amendments put forward
and debated, which is absolutely right, but the outcome sometimes
means that the strategy we started off with clearly is not where
we have ended up. That may change again as the bill progresses
through the Commons. We have a whole range of debates happening
Q215 Judy Mallaber: On the question
of the powers, this is presumably what you put in your evidence
about needing rights of audience for local authorities in the
Ms Martin: Yes.
Q216 Judy Mallaber: You have said
that through discussions there has been a change in what was being
said about the relationship between the LBRO and local authorities
and it was going to be less directive. Out of those discussions
in the bill as it currently is, how would you see yourself working
with the LBRO? Indeed, how should the BRE interact with LBRO?
Can you give us a picture of how you see that working in the future?
Councillor Sutton: We obviously
come from the starting point of the Hampton Review. There were
two, quite rightly, fairly high profile cases. We think there
is the genesis for the LBRO to be put in place. For us, £4.5
million for this body, which has been eight months in existence,
which has no statutory powers yetfrom a local area agreement
point of view has had no input, and has missed the deadline for
local area agreements for local authority leaders to sign off
with ministershas missed the boat to some degree. We are
not sure what the statutory powers will be, but they have yet
to be decided. The LGA would take the view that this is a local
issue. From two high profile cases nationally with the Hampton
Review, was the LBRO the correct response, that £4.5 million,
or would that be better invested into the local authorities to
improve regulation. Those are the big issues.
Q217 Judy Mallaber: You do not approve
of the Hampton Review.
Councillor Sutton: Yes, we do.
Q218 Judy Mallaber: Or you do not
think the LBRO should exist.
Councillor Sutton: I think that
those resources would have been better placed down to local authorities
to make sure that those mistakes never happened again. But there
were 400 and odd authorities. Two examples, although we recognise
they were mistakes, perhaps we think the LBRO was an overreaction
to some degree.
Q219 Judy Mallaber: What do you think
should be the level of involvement of the BRE or the BRE through
agencies with local government on regulation? Or do you think
local government should be allowed to get on with it? What do
you think is the correct relationship between the BRE and local
Councillor Sutton: I think local
government should get on with it. I think the BRE have those excellent
relationships with LACORS that we have described. LACORS is seen
by local authorities across the UK as the place to go for information
and advice. We see them as not only that but our improvement side
for regulatory services through that advice. At the early stages
of the LBRO, the LBRO positioned themselves as another improvement
agency. We do not need that.
Councillor Evans: It is another
tier of bureaucracy where we could have used the mechanism in
place to better effect.