Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-340)|
24 JUNE 2008
Q320 Chairman: I mean in Brussels;
I meant by that institutionally in Brussels!
Baroness Vadera: It does have
a physical presence in a manner of speaking in Brussels because
of UKREP. There are members of UKREP who are specifically working
on better regulation agenda; they are members of UKREP that come
Q321 Chairman: From BRE or just from
BERR, there is a big difference.
Mr Kohli: I do not think anybody
from UKREP at the moment who has worked in BRE but there is somebody
in BRE who has worked in UKREP; we have somebody in Slovenia because
of the Presidency at the moment, who is a BRE member of staff.
We have a strong presence through our colleagues in UKREP and
we have a strong understanding of what is going on.
Baroness Vadera: It is also important
to understand how UKREP actually works, in that it is made up
of a group of people who actually then have to represent all of
the departments and all of the views and all of the agendas collectively
in every single piece of work that is going on at the EU level.
For example, when I go to the Competitiveness Council, almost
all of the agenda recently that I have worked on because of the
Small Business Act has been around better regulation; and I then
work with the people doing the telecoms piece or the people doing
the environment piece or the people doing the manufacturing and
people worrying about oil pricesall of those individually
I work with in UKREP in the context of better regulation, so that
each of them has to bring the better regulation piece with them.
So I believe it is represented.
Chairman: You rightly predicted that
we might raise HMRC, so I will ask John to ask the questions.
Q322 John Hemming: Everything else
is in the BRE remit, it seems, why not the taxman?
Baroness Vadera: Because the taxman
is not a regulator.
Q323 John Hemming: There are burdens
imposed on data provision on the like, and we talked about the
police just now and the health service and we talked about all
these different bodies; why not the taxman? Should the taxman
be accountable to somebody somewhere for the amount of burden
they place on people?
Baroness Vadera: The policy cost,
so to speak, of the taxman, if you were going to try and draw
a parallel with regulation, the policy costs would be the tax
piece, which has a different accountability system of its own.
So then we are left with the admin burden piece, which is separate
and different from the policy costs, so to speak. The view that
was taken at the time was that because the two were linked that
we should keep them all within HMRC; that they would however undertake
an exercise that was based on the principles of better regulation
as far as the admin burdens section of it was concerned. They
undertook the exercise in very similar fashion on the same timescaleactually
a few weeks before we started. They came up with a conclusion
that was slightly different, which was based around the irritants
as much as the absolute numbers and the absolute burden, and they
have undertaken that exercise and they are accountable to the
Treasury for that. If I may, not wearing the current hat, just
say that I certainly looked at that when I was in the Treasury
and held them to account for the delivery against those targets
and it also had a business panel that did that for them. So they
in fact do do the same thing, but it is slightly different and
actually what transpired was that it was found to be slightly
different in terms of the needs of business because of the structure
Q324 John Hemming: So you are saying
that you are entirely happy for them to remain outside of the
Baroness Vadera: I am happy for
them to remain outside of the BRE's remit as long as they follow
the principles of better regulation, and it is the job of the
Treasury to ensure that it does so.
Q325 Chairman: The Environment Agency
spoke about initiative overload; the Food Standards Agency said
that BRE at times appeared to be driven by the need to introduce
new initiatives before older initiatives had time to deliver fully
what was intended. Do you accept that criticism that there has
been an initiative overload and do you plan to develop a more
prioritised way of working?
Baroness Vadera: I would accept
the view that we push these agencies very hard and that they do
not always like it; and that is just one of the facts of life
that we have to undertake. I think that the regulatory budgets
and the RES Bill and the Think Small First and the Admin Burdens
target collectively make up an overarching framework that I think
will get us to the right place. However, we will continue to drill
down on specific aspects; for example, we are currently doing
the Health and Safety Review and we think that this is a very
important issue. It has been thrown up by all of the employers,
not just in the business sector, as a huge irritant; and, by the
way, not as something that always protects and has the best interests
of people at work at heart because actually effective regulation
improves the outcome. It is not that we do not want to regulate
or we do not want to have safety, it is about how to do it in
the best possible way, and if we have too many burdens then people
are not as safe as they ought to be because there is just too
much to cope with. So I would say that we understand that we are
putting pressure on them but we have to do that in order to deliver.
Q326 Chairman: But with all the programmes
that you have got on at the moment, and making comparisons with
the other institutions we looked at in other countries, the BRE
really is not a huge organisation. Are your resources actually
spread too thinly?
Baroness Vadera: Perhaps I should
ask Resources to answer.
Sir William Sargent: Let me give
you an overview and then Jitinder can give you some specifics.
We work across three different strands. One is where we work with
departments simplifying and modernising what is there. Secondly,
working with departments to improve the new regulations and what
is coming there and how we communicate them. The third item is
in terms of working with people, their attitudes and cultures
and regulation inspectors on the ground. We have a pretty significant
team, size-wise. You will have noticed as you went around continental
Europe that our team is actually pretty well resourced. We then
draw upon other departments, so within BERR, for example, the
economists and analysts are people we draw upon tremendously.
If we take the Flanagan Review, we put people in there. So we
are pretty good at leveraging what we have in terms of working
with departments, encouraging them to do stuff, putting teams
together, et cetera, so it is not purely our own team which is
doing the regulatory reform work, generally it will be a collection
of people gathered together on a particular topicconsumer
law or health and safety is a very good example. The Flanagan
Review was a good example of that. So from that point of view
I think we are well resourced; I am very happy with it.
Q327 Chairman: Because of the way
you reach into departments and that some of your teams are not
permanent appointees, they come in on an ad hoc basis, there is
a relatively high turnover of the core people. Is there a risk
of losing the sort of institutional continuity you are trying
Sir William Sargent: Not at all.
One of the unusual things about BRE is that we were given pretty
much a blank sheet of paper when we started and were encouraged
to choose the best people from all sorts of backgrounds. So if
I look through some of the people we have internally and have
had in the past year or two, they have come from the World Bank,
King's College, Unilever, London School of Economics, local authorities,
a whole collection of businesses, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian
Governments, etcetera. So we have drawn people in who have particular
experience and value, and they bring a body of knowledge with
them into the BRE from different parts of the community, so to
speak, and then in turn of course, do not forget, they go back
out into them. So what we are doing is bringing people in and
absorbing their information. Most assignments internally are two
years, which is not short-term. Short-term I think is the wrong
expression, they tend to be two year stints, which is not uncommon
in the Civil Service. Then they go back out into the various parts
of the community, particularly the Civil Service. So from that
point of view short-term is not a word I recognise.
Q328 Mr Prisk: How many of those
people have set up and run their own business, other than yourself?
Sir William Sargent: A few. I
am trying to remember the exact number of people who have been
in and out of the place.
Mr Kohli: People have been in
and out. I cannot think off the top of my head how many people
we have who have run their own business but I can think of at
least one other person.
Sir William Sargent: A lot of
people have been in corporations, large and small. They may not
have been the owner.
Q329 Mr Prisk: You realise there
is a difference between large and small?
Sir William Sargent: Absolutely.
A much higher average than you would normally find in a government
Q330 Phil Wilson: Another question
about perception really. When you discuss issues with other organisations,
primarily it is about business, and Sarah Veale from the TUC said
that whenever you meet it is basically around business issues,
and I was wondering whether you would consider holding round-table
dialogues with representatives from business and the unions, et
cetera, to discuss matters such as discrimination law or the Working
Time Directive. Is that the kind of initiative you would take
Sir William Sargent: From my perception,
I have come on board from the private sector, but to me the public
sector and trade unions are a very important part of my dialogue.
So from the very beginning I have gone to Brendan Barber and Sarah
Veale and other TUC people and started a dialogue, and in the
beginning the nature of the relationship was, "This is all
about diluting protections, taking away people's rights",
and so forth. I was very clear that the work we do at the BRE
is that you start with a set of protections, obligations and rights
which are in the community which Parliament has passed over up
to a hundred years or whatever and so they are pretty sacrosanct
as far as I am concerned, and it is up to Parliament to alter
or take them forward. It is our job to look at what is in place
and the methods which have been used, to deliver those rights
and make sure they are done in a very economically efficient way.
So the answer is I do have a regular dialogue with the TUC.
Q331 Phil Wilson: When you say you
have a two-way dialogue
Sir William Sargent: Absolutely.
Q332 Phil Wilson: You do not go along
just to speak about business issues?
Sir William Sargent: Just to give
you the context, in my second year when we turned upmyself
and Jitinder Kohli meets with them once a year and have "How
are we doing" type conversationsand Brendan Barber
was very complimentary. At the beginning he said, "I am suspicious,
given your background and so forth", and in the second year
he was saying, "You have stood by what you said in the first
year." He certainly has not said to me since that his view
Baroness Vadera: If I may say
two things. One is that we do have a dialogue. There are things
which have actually come out of that specific type of dialogue,
for example, the Gibbons Review on employment resolution, which
is actually now going through Parliament, which would not have
come out except for being able to have that kind of dialogue.
But it is very important to distinguish the BRE role from the
policy department's role. If we are talking about a policy resolution
around the Working Time Directive, it is the role of the policy
department to ensure they are taking account of all the stakeholders'
views and it is the BRE's job to do something specific around
that, which is to ensure that we are clear, that the impact assessment
is done effectively to ensure the outcome is proportionate and
to ensure it is actually going to be enforced in a way which is
the least administratively burdensome. So there are different
roles and sometimes people tend to think it is the BRE's role
to look at policy and it is not the BRE's role to look at policy.
Q333 Judy Mallaber: You obviously
do have a role in relation to consumers, the current Bill going
through Parliament for example, looking at some of the local authorities'
regulatory functions, which is specifically and potentially aimed
at consumers. Do you regard yourself as having a role in relation
to the individual citizen? To take a recent case example of mine,
I have a constituent who is concerned about a divorce form which
is really difficult to fill in. If I send that to you, is that
within your remit and, if so, what are you doing to try and make
life less irritating and annoying for the individual citizens?
And can I pass a lot of my case work on to you?
Baroness Vadera: I do not know
about the answer to the latter, but I think it would be fair to
say that the job of the BRE is to look at the burdens of regulation
and the administrative burdens placed on everybody. As I said,
it is not just related to business. There is a public sector element
to that but again I would like to differentiate that policy leads
have to be from the departments which undertake that policy.
Q334 Judy Mallaber: But the administrative
burden in relation to the individual citizen can be different
from what they are getting via you looking at the regulatory burden
in relation to public services; the individual sat there dealing
with "bureaucracy". Is that something you regard as
within your remit and, if so, how do you go about tackling that?
Baroness Vadera: We have done
some stuff, for example, on driving licences and the ease with
which you can go about reapplying for things. That is already
something that we have looked at and done something about and
it has led to a significant easing of the burden.
Mr Kohli: There are two ways in
which citizens are affected by the programme. Firstly, we are
always on the look-out for suggestions on how to improve regulation
and, as you know, we have a website where we want people to give
us suggestions, and you can use that website just as businesses
and public sector workers. The other thing I was going to say
is that indirectly sometimes, but still very importantly, the
measures the departments are taking in order to meet their admin
burden target have an impact on citizens. The Minister was talking
about car tax, which is an example of an initiative which the
Department for Transport has taken forward in order to meet its
admin burdens target but actually would have a much greater impact
on citizens than it does on businesses. Businesses own vehicles
but actually citizens own vehicles as well.
Baroness Vadera: I did not mean
driving licences, I meant car tax.
Mr Kohli: So you have those kinds
of instances going on all the time. Departments are taking increasingly
seriously concerns about the burdens on citizens. I know the Department
for Work and Pensions has done a lot of work looking at the customers'
experience, people who apply for benefits, to make that experience
good. They realise that experience is not good enough; there are
too many forms, there are too many processes, and it needs to
get better. If you talk to a department like DWP about better
regulation, they want it rooted in the work they are already doing
around citizens and around their own staff, and they see businesses
as being a third issue. That is fair enough. We are very pleased
with the progress DWP are making, even if they are tackling the
agenda in a slightly different way from other departments.
Chairman: One final but rather important
Q335 Dr Naysmith: Lady Vadera, if
you have been reading the transcripts of our previous sessions
you will be aware that a number of organisations have suggested
that the BRE should take a lead in programmes for a better sharing
of data between regulators. Do you have any plans for doing this?
There is a Norwegian scheme, for example, which is a good model.
Baroness Vadera: Personally, it
is something that I have been very interested in for a long time.
One of the recommendations of the Hampton Review was that we should
look at the issue of data sharing. There are some constraints
around the sharing of dataconfidentiality and a number
of reasonswhich makes it very difficult. There are other
constraints around IT systems which make it difficult, but there
is in fact already quite a lot going on within those constraints
which Jitinder and William can talk about but I personally would
say that I think we should do a lot more and could do a lot more.
Q336 Mr Davies: Have you looked in
detail at how the Norwegians have solved those two problems?
Baroness Vadera: Yes. I actually
had a conversation with the Norwegian Minister about that, I would
say, two or three months ago. I cannot remember exactly when.
They did solve their IT problem in a way which I do not think
we are going to be able to do. You have to remember it is, with
no disrespect, a slightly different size of population, so it
does have certain different models which cannot be applied in
a wholesale fashion.
Q337 Mr Davies: You are giving up,
Baroness Vadera: No. In fact,
if you heard me correctly, you heard that I was, one, very interested
in it, two, we were doing things and, three, wanted to do more.
Jitinder is doing more because I keep pushing him to do more.
Mr Kohli: She does indeed.
Q338 Dr Naysmith: I am glad you are
interested in it but one of the things you have to be absolutely
certain of, and I am sure you have given some thought to, is the
question of legal resources, so that you are absolutely sure what
you are doing is the right thing to do, sharing data.
Baroness Vadera: Yes, that is
obviously one of the constraints. I think you can do some things
around those constraints. I have to say personally, having looked
at the Norwegian model, that we cannot solve the IT issue in the
same way and we are going to have to be a little more imaginative
Mr Kohli: If you are looking at
what the Norwegians are trying to achieve through Altinn, it is
enormously similar to what David Varney's report sets out on transformational
government. Their vision is around services and transactions with
Government, not delivered around the way Government is organised
but delivered around the way people run their own lives. That
is very much how we are trying to do things. We want businesses
to not have to read different bits of guidance and different bits
of legislation, we want businesses to be able to access guidance
on hiring a worker. It does not really matter whether it comes
from this Act, that Act, or some piece of secondary legislation,
what matters is what you have to do in those situations. That
is exactly what David Varney's Report talks about and businesslink.gov.uk
is not where Altinn is yet but our vision for businesslink.gov.uk
is pretty much in exactly the same place as where Altinn is. The
one important difference between Norway and the UK is that Norway
has had for some time a centralised list of business enterprises
which we do not have in the UK, what we instead have is a list
at Companies House of registered companies, a list of VAT-payers
with HMRC, and unless you can get these lists to talk to each
other better it is very hard to get to exactly where Norway has
got to. One of the things that HMRC is looking at as part of its
work on businesslink.gov.uk as the lead in Government on this
is around a single business identifier which would give us the
building blocks to get us to where the Norwegians have got to.
Q339 Dr Naysmith: As the Minister
says, it is a much smaller country which means we have a much
Mr Kohli: Absolutely.
Baroness Vadera: Yes, we do. I
would tell you though that all businesses are not happy about
data sharing with HMRC, so there is an interesting twist here
Q340 Chairman: Thank you very much
for your comprehensive answers and for putting up with the cross-questioning
of the Committee. We are hoping to publish our report before the
summer recess so we will give you interesting reading for your
holiday period, if you have a holiday.
Baroness Vadera: Thank you very
much. I look forward to it.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming.