Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by David Arculus, Chair, Better Regulation Task Force (GRI 21)


  The Better Regulation Task Force published in July 2002 a report on the local delivery of central policy. We did not look specifically at area-based initiatives, so our input to this inquiry is restricted to general principles of how the Government should decide to introduce area-based initiatives.

  As a first principle we believe that Government should first consider whether the initiative is needed at all. The Government should look at what is in place already—could it do the job? Working within the framework of what is already in place should always be the preferred option.

  Any new area-based initiative will need to be properly joined up and co-ordinated with other initiatives going on in the area. This means that those introducing the initiative need to involve the Regional Co-ordination Unit in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister at the earliest stage of policy development. The Regional Co-ordination Unit has been set up to ensure better co-ordination of policy initiatives with a regional or local impact. It can only do so if Government Departments involve it at the earliest stage of their thinking. The Better Regulation Task Force has recommended in its review that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister should report by July 2003 on the operation and achievements of the Regional Coordination Unit's gatekeeper function with proposals for strengthening it if necessary.

  New initiatives should be introduced only after effective trialling. Implementation should not take place until after the lessons from the trials can be learnt. But nor should old structures be abolished until new arrangements are in place. We found in our review that this is not always the case. For instance we found that the abolition of National Training Organisations in March 2002 left a vacuum while the new Sector Skills Councils were being rolled out gradually and trialled. This has left some sectors without any training bodies.

  Communication to stakeholders about changes is vital. If stakeholders are not clear what the initiative is aiming to achieve, or how to apply to benefit from it, it will not succeed. This sounds obvious, but we did find that communication with stakeholders about new initiatives was often poor.

  It is good practice to assess the likely impact of any new initiative. A Regulatory Impact Assessment is a good way of assessing impacts on various stakeholders. It can also bring out at an early stage any unforeseen and unintended consequences.

  Where an area-based initiative involves setting up a new body or relaunching an existing body, we would caution against moving in haste. It may look attractive politically but we have found it can lead to confusion on the ground. For instance the replacement of the Training and Enterprise Councils with the Learning and Skills Councils was viewed by local stakeholders as having been carried out too rapidly, with insufficient trialling and without adequate communication of what the change meant for business and other key stakeholders.

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Prepared 28 October 2002