Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.  The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) is an established local government central 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 authorities (LAs). LACORS is committed to the improvement agenda in this area. LACORS also works to influence legislation to ensure that the requirements of local authorities are understood, and Government policy can be practically enforced.

  2.  LACORS works with local authorities in a number of key policy areas, including health and safety. We utilise robust communication systems to facilitate work with councils, including policy discussion groups, the LACORS website and specialist emails.

  3.  Since 2004 LACORS has worked with LAs, HSC and HSE to improve partnership working on the ground between HSE and LA health and safety enforcement services. This has involved a significant transformation in ways of working for both LAs and HSE and is delivering a more efficient and effective regulatory service to business and the public. The comments in this submission need to be seen in this context.

Proposed merger of HSE and HSC

  4.  The evidence section sets out information supporting LACORS' view that the board of the proposed new body to be created by merging HSE and HSC should include a minimum of two members appointed following consultation with organisations representing local government, rather than one as is currently proposed. Ideally these members should have experience of local government with at least one having active political experience [paras 14-23].

What influence does HSE have as a statutory consultee in local authority planning?

  5.  LACORS is concerned that HSE appears to have been slow to engage with Local Area Agreements and fully embrace this important opportunity to raise the profile of the contribution of health and safety services to wider community priorities, and that this may lead to a reduction in the resources available to LA health and safety services in the future [paras 24-31].

Resources

  6.  LACORS is concerned that a lack of HSE's resources, the decision to move policy staff to Bootle and the potential waste of resources through the gold-plating of the Impact Assessment policy may threaten effectiveness of the future relationship between HSE and LAs [paras 32-7].

How effectively do HSE and local authorities interact in their inspection roles?

  7.  Partnership is becoming the way LAs and HSE do business but that process is not yet fully embedded and, as we have indicated elsewhere in this document, is potentially threatened by issues of HSC/E resourcing and reorganisation [paras 38-9].

INTRODUCTION

  8.  As mentioned, LACORS works with local authorities in a number of key policy areas, including health and safety. We utilise robust communication systems to facilitate work with councils, including policy discussion groups, the LACORS website and specialist emails.

  9.  Under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSAW) 1974 local authorities and HSE are accountable to the HSC for matters relating to their enforcement of the Act. The HSC also issues guidance to local authorities in relation to their powers under the Act. HSE and local authorities act as partners in delivering HSC's objectives.

  10.  Local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of health and safety law in over 1.1 million workplaces employing some 12 million people. Changes in the economy mean that the LA enforced sector (including the service and retail industries) is expanding as a proportion of the total relative to the HSE-enforced sector.

  11.  Changes in HSC's priorities mean that there is also an expanding focus on health and safety in the LA-enforced sector relative to the HSE-enforced sector.

  12.  Since 2004 the HSE has made significant progress in building an effective partnership with LAs. HSE regional partnership teams have made a significant contribution in making HSE training and delivery resources available to local authorities; Health and Safety Laboratory resources have been made available to research projects commissioned by LAs; joint conferences have been organised. The most significant achievement of the partnership has been the effective harnessing of LA resources to deliver HSC priorities in programmed activity supported by HSE materials and expertise. LACORS sees the development of this partnership as a major asset to local authority regulatory services and believes it has led to the delivery of better co-ordinated and targeted health and safety services to business and local communities.

  13.  LACORS sees the partnership with HSE as ready to enter a new phase in which we hope to see LA views embedded in the development of health and safety initiatives and to see HSE making a contribution in the development of local priorities. We are currently involved in discussions with HSE on the development of LAAs and of HSE's next communications plan. These developments will, we hope, be supported by the HSC's agreement in 2007 that local government (LACORS and its Local Government Panel) could submit papers to its meetings, a development we see as both very welcome and potentially very significant.

EVIDENCE AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Proposed merger of HSE and HSC

  14.  LACORS' chief concern regarding the merger of HSC and HSE is the danger that the new arrangements will create a body less able to reflect local priorities in its development of health and safety policy. This view was expressed in our response to both the HSE and DWP consultations on the merger proposal (the latter is appended to this document).[22]

  15.  It is commonly acknowledged that the days when the HSE, as the body responsible for factories, could claim to oversee the key areas of the economy are gone. Local authorities' responsibility for much of the service sector means their health and safety functions are now central to maintaining Britain's economic success.

  16.  It is also commonly accepted that LAs' role as delivery partners has not historically been reflected in their relationship with HSC and HSE. As the HSC has acknowledged, "even after 30 years in existence very few members of the public are able to distinguish between [HSC and HSE]".[23] The HSC's own consultation on the merger proposal, drafted by HSE, ignores local authorities' role in delivering health and safety services at key points in its argument and in LACORS' experience, despite recent improvements, the historical tendency of HSE at the centre to act as if local authorities have no health and safety role has been slow to alter.[24]

  17.  A key factor here is that, while HSE has a long-established policy resource and there are clear routes by which its views feed into HSC's policy, the LA sector (managers and health and safety practitioners as well as councillors) lacks an established and equitable path through which to feed its views to HSC; meanwhile the HSC has no policy support independent of HSE. This has resulted in a tendency for HSE to advise HSC with insufficient regard to the role and requirements of local government and to ignore the experience and advice available from the local government sector. The position has improved over recent years but there remains room for further improvement. LACORS still finds itself consulted on HSE policy documents impacting on local authorities at too late a stage and sometimes such papers are submitted to HSC while omitting to mention local authorities at all. LACORS wishes to see the early inclusion of LAs in policy development to become the norm, not the exception.

  18.  LACORS has played a significant role in building partnership working between local authorities and HSE's Field Operations Directorate (FOD) in recent years and welcomes the progress HSE has made in recognising the need to treat LAs as partners. In pursuing this objective LACORS has argued that the organisation of health and safety needs to change in order to effectively and equitably support its two main delivery arms.[25]

  19.  Since May 2007 the need for a greater local government voice in any new body overseeing health and safety has become even clearer as plans for the new generation of Local Area Agreements have taken shape in England. LAAs have been established as what the Government is calling the "only game in town" for managing LA performance and as a means by which local communities can pursue national objectives through targets that have local significance, signalling a move a way from bureaucratically-driven central targets. A strong local government voice at the heart of whatever body replaces HSC and effective local government input into the early stages of health and safety policy-making are essential, if the post-merger body is not to be left struggling to cope with the new relationship the Government wants to build between the centre and local authorities. This view is developed in the following section.

  20.  In addition, LACORS' response to the initial HSE consultation also raised questions about the wisdom of combining the roles of overseeing the operation of the HSE and overseeing health and safety policy in one body. These concerns do not appear to us to have been addressed.

  21.  By creating a body that, while overseeing itself, is both the operational partner of local authorities and their statutory master, the proposal to merge the HSE and HSC risks unbalancing a system that has a proven track record of success as the best in Europe. A better working relationship between HSC and HSE is to be welcomed and provides an opportunity to improve an already excellent system; not however, if it carries with it a negative impact on the relationship between local government and HSC. In particular the new arrangements risk unbalancing the existing structure by skewing the new body's policies towards those areas enforced by the HSE at the expense of the equally significant local authority sector.

  22.  LACORS feels strongly that one of the most effective ways to avoid such negative outcomes will be to ensure that the new body includes a greater representation from the local authority sector. We welcome the fact that a member of the new body is now to be specifically appointed following consultation with bodies representing LAs. However, while this is not currently a requirement, it is current practice to have a local government representative, although there is no formal consultation process for their appointment. This element of the proposal therefore has only a symbolic significance.

  23.  Given the vital role of local authorities in delivering the HSC's objectives and their responsibility for health and safety in approximately half the workplaces in Britain, LACORS hopes that the Select Committee will recommend that the board of the proposed new body to be created by merging HSE and HSC should include a minimum of two members to be appointed following consultation with organisations representing local government, rather than one as is currently proposed. Ideally these members should have experience of local government with at least one having active political experience.

What influence does HSE have as a statutory consultee in local authority planning?

  24.  This is a key question now that local authority planning—at a strategic level—increasingly revolves around Local Area Agreements. As a named partner in devising these plans HSE ought to have an important role to play in promoting the contribution health and safety can make towards the national indicators on which LAAs will be founded.

  25.  This need is recognised within HSE and LACORS is working with HSE to promote this contribution. The regional partnership events at the end of 2007, organised by LACORS and the Local Authority Unit (LAU) at HSE, provided opportunities to share experience of LAAs, learn lessons and disseminate information.

  26.  However, until the passing of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act in November 2007 there appears to have been little work done within HSE to prepare to engage with LAAs at a departmental level and as a result the work that is being done now has been begun rather late in the day.

  27.  Individual programmes within HSE have made efforts to engage with LAAs. Some worthwhile work has been conducted in the Stress programme and in relation to targets relevant to issues affecting migrant workers. However, these efforts have been uncoordinated.

  28.  Some Partnership Managers[26] have tried to engage with LAAs but this seems to have been done on their own initiative.

  29.  There has also been uncertainty within HSE as to who should lead on engaging with LAAs.

  30.  One consequence is that HSE does not appear to appreciate the centrality of the new national indicators set and is only now beginning to appreciate the potential conflict between the Government's desire to concentrate its management of LA performance on LAAs and the HSC's reliance on LAs to deliver its priorities. "What happens if an HSC priority does not contribute to the National Indicators?" is a question the HSE is only starting to address.

  31.  HSE's slow start in engaging with LAAs may impact on the resources devoted to health and safety by LAs by diminishing the chances of health and safety initiatives being included in LAAs. It has also created uncertainty over the extent to which local resources will be devoted to meeting HSC's objectives in future.

Does the HSE have sufficient resources to fulfill its objectives as the health and safety regulator and meet its PSA targets?

  32.  LACORS is concerned that the success of the HSE/LA partnership so far could be undermined by resources issues in three ways.

  33.  The appointment of Partnership Liaison Officers (PLOs) in 2005 played a very significant role in improving the working relationship between LAs and HSE on the ground. PLOs were LA officers seconded to HSE, but as the first round of secondments began to come to an end in late 2006 HSE's financial difficulties led to a hiatus before new secondments were made. The second round of secondments has suffered from a cut in funding and some of the appointments have been part time or for less than a year. In our view PLOs have proved excellent value for money but need to be full time appointments for a minimum of 12 months to be fully effective.

  34.  At the same time LAU and Partnership teams have suffered cuts in resources which has seen Partnership Managers combining their role with that of External Relations Managers. Taking on this additional workload could hamper Partnership Managers' core responsibility of managing the delivery partnership between local authorities and HSE.

  35.  HSE's decision to move the vast majority of its London staff to Bootle appears, from anecdotal evidence we have received, to have had a significant effect on the organisation's morale. We are concerned that the move to Bootle could lead to a large turnover of staff and a significant loss of experience. It is essential that in managing the move to Bootle there are strategies in place to prevent any undermining of the important partnership between local government and HSE.

  36.  Based on the evidence presented in this section and in recognition of the role of local authorities in delivering health and safety priorities, LACORS hopes the Select Committee will recommend that the merged organisation devotes greater resource to maintaining its operational partnership with local authorities.

Does HSE allocate its budget efficiently?

  37.  HSE has recently adopted a new Impact Assessment procedure, described in HSC's paper HSC/07/55, paragraphs 11-13. LACORS understands that the detailed bedding-down of this policy is still an ongoing process. LACORS supports the use of Impact Assessments in evaluating significant new burdens and relevant policy choices but we are concerned to ensure that the new approach is not adopted in a way which leads to resources being used to assess the impact of routine procedures, which as a consequence may either be delayed at a risk to workers and the public or abandoned with similar consequences.

How effectively do HSE and local authorities interact in their inspection roles?

  38.  In 2004 local government, HSC and HSE signed a Joint Vision and Statement of Intent of the principles underlying the LA/HSE partnership.[27] Partnership work aims to make the best use of respective strengths to tackle national and local priorities. This programme is intended to raise the public and political profile of health and safety among both workers and the public with the aim of emphasising and increasing its contribution to community health and well-being. Partnership working between LAs and HSE in enforcing health and safety since 2004 has served to reduce boundaries between the activities that LAs enforce versus those that HSE enforces. Initiatives such as flexible warranting between LA health and safety enforcement officers and HSE inspectors—currently being piloted around the country—allow a more customer-focussed, responsive approach to businesses.[28] Current joint working has led to improvements in meeting current health and safety targets and LAs have committed over 300 staff years to HSE's key priorities.

  39.  The various arrangements governing this partnership—partnership teams, the Local Government Panel, the policy forum and HELA are proving effective but are only now becoming embedded. Partnership is becoming the way LAs and HSE do business but that process is not yet complete and, as we have indicated elsewhere in this document, is potentially threatened by issues of resourcing and reorganisation.[29]

LACORS

January 2008







22   In drafting these responses LACORS consulted its officer advisory policy forum (which consists of representatives of Head of Service and county health and safety practitioner groups from each English region, Wales and Scotland) and LACORS' Local Government Panel (LGP). The LGP consists of LACORS' Chairman and six senior councillors, nominated by the local government associations of England, Scotland and Wales and drawn from the membership of those bodies' relevant policy boards. At a meeting with HSC on 15 May 2007, the LGP called for stronger local government representation on the new body and stressed the need to reflect the partnership between HSE and LAs on the ground at strategic level, by involving local government in the early stages of policy-making. Back

23   HSC A stronger voice for health and safety-A Consultative Document on merging the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive 2006, paragraph 47. Back

24   Ibid, paragraphs 14, 20, and 22. Back

25   In their joint response of September 2003 to the HSE's Review of the relationship between the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, LACORS and the LGA recommended that "the HSC role should be expanded and the HSE's powers for monitoring and ensuring LAs" compliance with guidance etc be transferred to the HSC. The resulting structure would see the inspectorates of the HSE and of LAs reporting to the same independent auditor. This would mean that the HSE and LAs would be treated as equals and would make the enforcement activity of all LAs and the HSE equally transparent and accountable' on the grounds that it would engender a "consistent, equal treatment of both LA and HSE health and safety enforcement services". In their joint response of December 2003 to the HSE's A Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety in Great Britain to 2010 and Beyond, LACORS and LGA reiterated the need for "equity in the partnership between LAs and the HSE at a strategic and an operational level". In particular the response called for the performance of both FOD inspectors and LA inspectors to be analysed and published by the HSC independently of the HSE and for FOD results to be made public on the same basis as LAs performance, to allow better scrutiny of the effectiveness of the deployment of the overall inspection resource. The response argued that "at present the HSC relies on HSE staff for secretariat functions and, in our view, this is not sufficiently independent to instil confidence in the HSC's role of overseeing the health and safety network. We urge the HSC to address this". Back

26   Partnership Managers oversee the enforcement partnership between HSE and LAs at regional level. Although officially working for the Field Operations Directorate they appear to be managed by the HSE's Local Authority Unit. Back

27   The Statement of Intent was signed in September 2004 by HSC, HSE, LACORS, LGA, WLGA and COSLA http://www.hse.gov.uk/lau/lacorshealth.pdf Back

28   Flexible Warrants issued under s19 HSWA 1974 allow one Enforcing Authority (EA) to appoint another EA's suitably qualified inspectors to act within its field of responsibility. In other words HSE and LA inspectors can be appointed to exercise their powers in each other's premises or spheres of activity. Flexible Warrants provide a practical tool for dealing with some allocation issues, but also help to make better use of joint resources (by removing barriers to action), to increase the speed of response to issues of significant risk (because of LA inspectors' local presence) and generally to enhance partnership working (by recognising the equivalence of powers and skills between HSE and LA staff). Back

29   The HSE/LA enforcement liaison committee (HELA) was established in 2006 with senior representation from HSE officials and LA officers-representatives from England, Scotland and Wales drawn from LACORS' Health and Safety Policy Forum. The remaining bodies referred to are described in footnote 1 above. Back


 
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