REGULATORY REFORM COMMITTEE ENQUIRY

 

Introduction

 

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 practically enforced.

 

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. (I.e. 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 countries.

 

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 included these.

 

General

 

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 evidence sessions.

 

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 4million, 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 Implementation Reviews of National Regulators

 

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.

 

National Enforcement Priorities

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 planning cycles.

 

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.

 

Simplification Plans

 

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 2 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.

 

Guidance etc

 

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.

 

Other reviews

 

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.

 

Retail Enforcement Pilot

 

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 further.

 

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.

 

Sanctions

 

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 and Wales.

 

Oral Evidence Hearing

 

21 We have been asked to give oral evidence at 9.30am on 20th May. We are pleased to accept this invitation. At this stage I can only confirm 1 witness which will be Wendy Martin, Director of Policy for LACORS (wendy.martin@lacors.gov.uk). We are likely to want 4 places in total with the 3 others being 2 councillors from LACORS and LGA and an additional officer. I will let you have these names as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

25th March 2008