Select Committee on Regulatory Reform Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)


24 JUNE 2008

  Q280  Judy Mallaber: When you look at the other sectors, the burden on the third sector and also bureaucracy in public services, do you take the same approach in terms of how to identify which sorts of factors to look at?

  Baroness Vadera: A lot of the regulations that we look at obviously apply to all sectors; there are employers in all of the sectors, there are health and safety issues in all of the sectors, so they do apply across the piece.

  Q281  Judy Mallaber: For example, in the public services there are big issues that come up if you are talking about both irritation and time in terms of public service workers filling in forms in various areas—education, police and so on.

  Baroness Vadera: As part of this 30% exercise that we discussed earlier, there is both a 30% exercise in terms of the number of times we ask for data from the public service as well as an exercise on irritants.

  Mr Kohli: To give you a specific example, the Department of Health identified 30 key irritants which health providers are concerns about. The top few of those are about different bits of the health service asking frontline health providers for similar pieces of information, and they are committing themselves to addressing those issues. That leads to the publication of the Department of Health's simplification plan in the autumn.

  Q282  Mr Prisk: Can I ask both the Minister and Sir William, in terms of how this programme in terms of administrative burdens progresses, what role do you see in how business organisations can play a part in communicating progress or lack of progress? In other words, where do you see them sitting on that?

  Baroness Vadera: If we do deliver on a particular area but somehow it is not being felt by businesses then obviously that would defeat the purpose at the end of it. We can find the methodology that gives you a number and a process that gets you to that number, but if the actual result is not being felt on the ground we would still consider ourselves not to have done the job effectively. So we absolutely have to be sure that we are checking that what we are doing is having an impact on business. So we research it, we follow what people are doing, we do samples and surveys and we have discussions with businesses and with business associations very regularly, because if we did not do that we would not be doing our job properly.

  Sir William Sargent: To give you some more detail, myself and the Minister meet pretty regularly with the five main business groups in addition to trade associations that are sector specific so we have quite a range of conversations. If we take Common Commencement Dates, which is something I feel is a very positive way of communicating because what you are identifying is how we get the communication in both directions: one, to get ideas from the business community; and, two, for departments to give feedback to the business community—

  Baroness Vadera: Can I just interrupt to say that Common Commencement Dates are William's idea and that was before he joined the BRE and that was us listening to business.

  Sir William Sargent: Yes, running a small business, how did I know what was happening and when it was going to happen on certain dates and so forth? So the two dates, 6 April and 1 October, we are a few years into that now. To give you an example, here is what used to be published from the business point of view if you went on to the website for and the Common Commencement Date that just happened we have it down to something like this for the business community. We then had the issue of how do we get that through to the businesses? For example, the five main business groups and the main trade associations can get it electronically to about a million businesses, so we use them as a channel to deliver, to say, "Here is the information, what is new, what is happening, and could you deliver this to your members?"

  Q283  Chairman: Just to aid our record of this because Gurneys cannot record the scale ...

  Sir William Sargent: Taking an example of a document which was on a Department's website, which was 80 pages of guidance—and that might have been so years ago, even when it was done electronically—and something that has been brought in with new regulations on the April 6 Common Commencement Date is a three and a half page, very simple and easy to digest document.

  Q284  Mr Prisk: Which department is that?

  Mr Kohli: The situation is that departments individually publish their own guides on what modifications are coming in and if you add it all up it is 80 pages. So Communities and Local Government is at the front of that, but that whole pack is 80 pages for all government departments. But actually it is not just that; if you look at it, if you read it and you try and make some sense of it you somewhat struggle because it is written in very legalistic speak.

  Q285  Mr Davies: Can you pass those documents round so that we can look at them?

  Mr Kohli: Of course.

  Q286  Mr Prisk: I strongly commend the Common Commencement Dates, but just following on, Chairman, on the business communication role, my understanding is that last April there were 81 orders on that particular date but this year it has risen, I understand, in April to 128. I think there were 82 on the day, but around that period 128. Was business disappointed by that?

  Sir William Sargent: The feedback I have had from the journalists who talk to businesses is quite pleased about the manner in which they got the information because in the end to find something that relates to you specifically—because, do not forget, quite a lot of things are quire narrow within departments—the fact that you could now get information that you can absorb very easily, I think people are very pleased with that.

  Q287  Mr Prisk: Even though the level went up?

  Sir William Sargent: I have not had any feedback from the fact that they felt that they could absorb anything more strenuous, because do not forget quite a lot of things would not apply to every single business in the community.

  Q288  Dr Naysmith: In oral evidence to us both the CBI and the BCC said that they wanted more focus on the flow of new legislation, and that was to include statutory instruments as well. Beyond regulatory budgets, which we have talked about already, and which are still being consulted on, what plans are there to tackle this legislative flow at government level?

  Baroness Vadera: I think it is fair to say that we have always had measures in place to look at the flow, including the impact assessments, the fact that we make collective decisions so that we are looking at the collective burden on businesses as well as on the other sectors, and the impact assessments have to show that there is a benefit that is significant. I would say that regulatory budgets are crucial and are central to this because it is actually the one thing that is not just about different bits of a process in the way we make decisions, but an overall cap that actually self-regulates. So I would say that it is the first time that any government has considered a cap, a limit on the flow of regulation and I think that is quite radical. If you have that in one sense within that piece of course we will still continue to need to have impact assessments because we need to ensure that even if it is within the cap it is proportionate and it is the right thing to do, but it does really overarch everything.

  Q289  Dr Naysmith: One of the things that the Chamber of Commerce suggested was dividing statutory instruments into the substantive legislation change and those that are just administrative, such as road-closing orders and updating measures, and that sort of thing. What do you think of that idea? It would help the assimilation of what is important and what we are talking about a minute ago.

  Baroness Vadera: I think the process of how we communicate that change, which is something that William referred to in terms of the Common Commencement Date, as well as how we communicate actually is important, whether it is through guidance or whether it is through the Common Commencement Dates—the information that William referred to. I think that is the place to actually divide them. Statutory instruments are legislative tools so we cannot start to divide statutory instruments into two different types; we actually have to look at it in terms of a burden on business. It is also true to say that in some sectors the burden will be different from within others.

  Q290  Dr Naysmith: Road-closing orders are quite different from introducing some sort of legislation that will go on and on and on for a long time.

  Baroness Vadera: It might be, but road closures might be very important to certain types of utilities, so it depends on the sector—some things might still have an impact on certain types of companies.

  Q291  Dr Naysmith: Also I cannot resist the opportunity at the moment to raise the role of this Committee in all of this. Over the years this Committee has had the power to get rid of regulatory burdens and to get rid of outdated regulations and things that business finds irritating and annoying, and the government has never put enough work through this Committee, and I just wonder (a) do you know why this is; and (b) what we can do about it to make sure that this Committee is used to its full? The government blames this Committee when it is drawn to its attention that they are not using the Committee and says it is because we are too slow—but we have never been too slow.

  Baroness Vadera: I can apologise for that. I do not know why and I do not know the history of it.

  Q292  Dr Naysmith: It is probably not directly your responsibility, but you can draw people's attention to it.

  Baroness Vadera: What I can say is that I am always, always in the market for ideas of how to do things better as well as what particular burdens to look at; whether we can do something with it; and actually if it came from this Committee it would be incredibly welcome because in one sense it comes then from Parliament and has some buy-in and it would make life a lot easier for us. So actually now that you mention it you might regret it—I might be on your case a lot more!

  Q293  Dr Naysmith: There is reported to be a good flow of LROs coming our way but sometimes in the past these have disappeared at the last hurdle, so if you can make sure that they come through.

  Baroness Vadera: Absolutely, although LROs are not the only instrument by which we undertake better regulation—they are just ones that apply to a specific type of better regulation outcome. So I think it would be very good if we were able to look at the whole range of the LROs.

  Q294  Chairman: The Financial Times quoted a Minister—I think it was John Hutton—as saying that there were 40 or 45 in the pipeline.

  Baroness Vadera: It is 38.

  Q295  Chairman: I exaggerate slightly. But thus far we have physically only seen one and we have knowledge of another five or so. That is not all that many.

  Baroness Vadera: I know that you discussed this previously and we have the list here.

  Mr Kohli: We can pass that over to you.

  Sir William Sargent: The process is something that is quite recent and at present one to be made, two are before Parliament; six, the consultation process has finished, etcetera. So the pipeline is pretty accurate.

  Q296  John Hemming: Perhaps related to this, I was having a problem in my constituency with the police and trying to get them to arrest people for minor crimes and they said, "It takes too long to process the arrest," which is obviously a regulatory burden. I wrote to the Minister and said, "How long does it take to arrest somebody?" and they said "We do not know", which I did not think was a very good answer, to be honest. If you look at these aspects of what are effectively regulatory burdens, even if they are implied by the judicial processes rather than the executive or legislative process, I wonder whether you look at that and try to manage that within regulatory budgets or anything else because obviously it has a massive impact because the people do not arrest people because it takes too long, and that is just not acceptable. So do you look at that in this process at all?

  Baroness Vadera: I do not know whether you have managed to prompt Jitinder about this beforehand because he appears to have stop and search documents!

  Mr Kohli: I am pleased you have asked that question because, as you will know, Sir Ronnie Flanagan did a review of policing recently and it gives me an opportunity to give you an example of how the BRE works in practice. We became aware that Sir Ronnie Flanagan was going to do this review because the Home Office spoke to us about it, and we sent a member of staff to go and work on this review and work on the regulatory aspects of this piece of work, and you will know that one of the key recommendations that Sir Ronnie makes is around the process around stop and search. A key irritant for police officers on the ground is that they have to fill in this formor one, similar in length not only when they ask individuals for stop and search information but also when they do a stop and account procedure, which is much less invasive and the form is long. It is for good reasons, but actually Sir Ronnie finds that he does not think it is necessary to do it in the stop and account instances. And that, Sir Ronnie thinks, will save significant amounts of police officer time. I am pleased that that recommendation was written by a member of BRE staff working very closely with Sir Ronnie, and it was a very good instance of how we get into things which are irritating, which affect the public sector and have real time savings for people on the ground. Actually it is about detail; that is one of the things that is great and frustrating about regulatory reform, you have to get into the detail and the admin burden exercise sets up frameworks but actually it is the detail that makes the difference on the ground for real businesses, real public sector workers and real people in the third sector.

  Q297  John Hemming: It is a similar problem with nurses having to fill in 37 pages for each patient and it stops them from feeding the patients.

  Mr Kohli: Absolutely.

  Baroness Vadera: That is exactly right.

  Q298  John Hemming: So you are doing that on a responsive basis rather than initiating it?

  Mr Kohli: We are doing both. We are initiating it by saying to departments that they need to find the key irritant and they need to find what they are going to do about it; but equally when an opportunity comes along, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan did on a review of policing, we are quite happy to jump on that bandwagon and push it in the right direction. I can pass that round, if that would be helpful.

  Q299  Mr Davies: Let us move on, if we may, to the role of the BRE and the structure of government. The decision to remove BRE from the Cabinet Office, to the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, is a controversial one. Before I say anything further about it can you just set out in your own words what you believe the rationale of that decision was?

  Baroness Vadera: I am surprised you think it is controversial.

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