Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2001
CB AND MR
60. Does it sound ridiculous to you? I am not
saying the NAO are incorrect, but does it sound a ridiculous thing
to you that a shopkeeper in a small shop should spend five days
out of a month dealing with government admin rather than trying
to keep the shop afloat?
(Mavis McDonald) There are areas where the public
will be legitimately concerned about the way a village shopkeeper
might handle the goods he supplies, particularly in terms of fresh
food. The precise balance for anyone may vary depending on what
they are doing. I would go back to what David said. Some of this
would possibly be down to the way in which the local authority
trading standards department was enforcing some of their regulations
in that particular area. If there is scope for looking at the
way in which the actual implementation of existing regulations
is done, that may well be the most fruitful area for helping small
61. When you said you were actually engaged
with departments in this business of looking for significant opportunities
to strip out regulation, what should an average shopkeeper expect
in shall we say five years' time that they will be having to spend,
perhaps even in three years' time, in terms of days per month
compared with now?
(Mavis McDonald) I really do not have an answer to
62. You do see that if you are a shopkeeper
it is a matter of huge concern?
(Mavis McDonald) Where we might help the average shopkeeper,
beside looking at the way in which we handle what is now on the
table, is to look at the way in which we ask for information,
the way in which we might consolidate the way in which we ask
for information. For example, something we are looking at now
in relation to government's relationship with the voluntary sector,
a lot of the burden of the impact is because government is duplicating
the way in which it asks for information before it provides grants,
for example, or is looking for several different kinds of registration
where one kind of registration might do. There is a number of
opportunities to look at that kind of way in which systems are
administered which could be very helpful to the small shopkeeper
as well as looking at pale blue skies as to what is coming over
the horizon, which is much more difficult to do.
63. The NAO talked about these three points:
starting earlier, consulting effectively and then analysing the
costs and benefits appropriately. May I start with starting earlier
and go back to Mr Gardiner's question about Europe? I had been
eagerly expecting you, in answer to his question about paragraph
2.6, to say yes and I was quite surprised when you said no. I
take it then that since the Cabinet Office guidance was issued,
other than things which are a long way down the pipeline, for
new legislative initiatives which have been started since the
Cabinet Office guidance was issued in 1999, it is now standard
practice that an RIA should be considered at an earlier stage.
(Mavis McDonald) We have certainly been encouraging
that and it is something our Ministers attach a lot of importance
to. We recently held a conference with departments about arrangements
for transposition for example, to stress again the kind of need
to think early about what you would do
64. I am talking about earlier than transposition.
I spent a week I shall not forget in Directorate General XV when
I was a journalist writing about single market and financial services
regulation. I remember well talking to a lawyer who is a lobbyist
and talked to the Commission a great deal about proposals for
directives. I remember he said to me very clearly that once a
directive had emerged from the Commission even in draft form it
is way, way too late in the process, very oftennot always
but oftento do much about it because there are far too
many egos involved. What I am asking is not once you have a directive
which has been agreed and has to be transposed, I am talking about
much, much earlier in the process.
(Mavis McDonald) The conference was encouraging that
kind of early engagement as well and it is something we promote
in the regular contacts we have with departments who are engaged
with Europe. The other thing we have been doing is working within
Europe to try to get our principles and the approach we have adopted
here to regulation, including the three principles you are exploring,
taken on board as part of Europe's own thinking about the way
in which the impact of European regulation should be managed and
monitored and that is currently ongoing work.
65. Mr Gardiner earlier mentioned the European
Policy Forum's letter to us. They say, " . . . although last
year we negotiated a change to the RIA guidelines under which
Departments are advised to consult affected parties at the outset
on the most appropriate data collection and impact assessment
methodology, we have not yet heard of a case where this has happened".
Could you say why not?
(Mavis McDonald) I am not sure that we recognise exactly
what they are saying.
66. Do you think it has happened?
(Mavis McDonald) This is part of an ongoing process.
We do think departments have got engaged much earlier on quite
a lot of activity which is going on in Europe and our current
guidance already draws attention to this. We are certainly quite
happy to provide more and better examples.
67. May I be clear on one thing? Am I right
in thinking that EPF have represented this accurately, that your
guidance now, following the change they negotiated, does include
advice to departments to consult affected parties at the outset
on the most appropriate data collection?
(Mavis McDonald) The current guidance certainly includes
that. I am not quite sure we recognise that cause and effect.
68. Perhaps the simplest way round this is if
you give me an example. If they say it has not happened, can you
give me an example of where it has happened?
(Mavis McDonald) No. I am consolidating a note on
European issues and if I could add that into that, then we shall
give you as long a story as we can, if that is okay.
Mr Bacon: Very much so.
69. You will have this letter which is being
referred to. It is an important letter and I think they would
welcome your remarks on it in detail.
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
70. They also make the point that "RIAs
should be based on full commercial impacts, including employment
and consumer prices, rather than just compliance costs, which
are often interpreted narrowly. However, in many of the RIAs we
have examined the assessment is still confined to costs of compliance".
What would be your reaction to that?
(Mavis McDonald) Our view is that the fullest assessment
of costs that anybody is able to do is of great value and we would
not want to inhibit people from doing that if they were able to
do that. It is something we can take up again and look at when
we revise the guidance.
71. I should like to ask you about asymmetry.
This is a point the EPF make but it is also made in the report
on page 17, paragraph 1.16, "Cabinet Office guidance suggests
that it may be good practice for a RIA to be prepared where regulatory
action is taken which does not need legislation". The EPF
go on to make the point that there is quite an asymmetry "
. . . between ministries and regulatory bodies and some regulatory
bodies, like the Environment Agency and the FSA where they do
have a statutory requirement, but others which do not. Yet there
are regulatory bodies which do have effectively the power to make
a considerable difference ... although they do not make regulation
in the strict sense, the impact of their regulatory decisions
is often far greater than that of the legislation from which they
derive their powers". Would it not be sensible to have RIAs
everywhere where people were going to be seriously impacted by
(Mavis McDonald) We do suggest that when departments
are developing policy they do think about whether they need to
adopt this approach even if they are not particularly proposing
to go for a legislative change at that point. Needless to say
we do not necessarily have knowledge about what all departments
are doing but it is something we can give more attention to when
we look at revising the guidance.
72. The report talks about not just businesses
but charities and voluntary sector organisations being affected
by regulation. What have you been attempting to do to try to improve
the situation for charities and voluntary organisations?
(Mavis McDonald) Our approach was very much, as it
is with small businesses, finding the appropriate and best way
to consult with the kind of charities and voluntary sector bodies
which are impacted. Unlike business, voluntary sector bodies scale
from very large national organisations which are well able to
cope, to quite small local groups which have much less resource
to handle this. We would expect to find best practice examples
to promote. There is also a cross-cutting review as part of the
spending review 2002 which is looking at service delivery near
the voluntary sector and which is working across government to
look amongst other things at the ways in which we can, as government,
help engage with the voluntary sector by reducing the impact of
government requirements on them if they are going to participate
as service deliverers and receive funding. That is another route.
The Home Office active communities unit have been working with
the national council on revising their compact on how government
might deal with voluntary bodies more generally to try to ease
the weight of administration required of them.
73. Paragraph 1.16 says, "RIAs are not
expected where the proposal affects only the public sector, such
as schools and police forces". Am I right that the general
rule is that if it is a public sector body then an RIA is not
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
74. I just wanted to check that. Earlier in
part 1 in paragraph 1.5 it is talking about businesses and it
says that in small organisations "the proprietor has to give
up valuable time not only to read and understand the regulations
but also to work out what it means for the business". In
paragraph 1.6 "The report noted that while large companies
could employ experts in each of these fields, it was not reasonable
to expect the same level of expertise in one person". It
strikes me that all of that could apply to a small school and
yet schools and indeed police forces do not benefit, if that is
the word, from RIAs. Is this the reason why we get so many complaints
from schools and indeed police forces about the burden of regulatory
and administrative change?
(Mavis McDonald) The formal RIA system does not apply.
We have a unit within the regulatory impact unit which is looking
at the impact of regulation on the public sector itself. We have
worked with departments on cutting frontline bureaucracy, with
schools, with the police and with GPs. We have some more work
going on with GPs, we have some work going on with local government
and we have a real programme there. Those reports are in the public
75. Are they out already?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
76. Do they give any indication, or if not is
there work going on, as to how much time teachers do not spend
in front of their classes or how much time policemen do not spend
out catching criminals because of the burden of regulation?
(Mavis McDonald) We can certainly send the Committee
copies of the reports. Largely what they focus on is the scope
for reducing requirements on frontline staff in terms of paperwork
which would actually release them to have more hours to work on
their core activities. Those opportunities are spelled out in
77. Paragraph 3.45 and onwards talk about access
to RIAs on websites and paint a picture of quite wide access but
nonetheless quite a lot of variation. Could you say what percentage
of RIAs are now available through the internet?
(Mavis McDonald) No, I cannot tell you precisely what
percentage of RIAs are out there.
78. It is not all of them.
(Mavis McDonald) It is not all of them but it is now
a very significant number of them. We have been developing our
own website, indeed I have just been given a front page. We are
aiming to get to the position where you can cross click; we list
but then you can get from our website into the detail of the department's
RIA as well. We are much better than we were on that.
79. Is it your target that all RIAs will be
available on the web?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
5 Ev, Appendix 1, p 23. Back
Making a Difference Reducing School Paperwork, Making a Difference
Reducing Police Paperwork and Making a Difference Reducing
General Practitioner(GP) Paperwork-reports from the Cabinet
Office, Public Sector Team, Regulatory Impact Unit. Back