Research and analysis

RPC response to ‘Understanding the Impact of Regulatory Policy Committee Amber Opinions’ research

The Regulatory Policy Committee’s response to IFF Research’s findings and recommendations on the impact of amber opinions

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The RPC is committed to improving how we work and enhancing the impact of our scrutiny and opinions. To help identify areas for improvement, we commissioned research into how government departments respond to our amber-rated opinions. These are opinions on impact assessments (IAs) that accompany new regulatory or deregulatory proposals that affect businesses, charities or voluntary groups. IAs that receive an amber rating are fit for purpose provided the department responds to the concerns raised in the opinion.

The report makes a number of recommendations for improving how the RPC works.

Research findings and recommendations:

The key finding of the research is that departments addressed or partially addressed concerns raised by the RPC in amber opinions only around 50% of the time. The report provides information on the reasons provided by departments for this limited level of response. The research also attempted to draw together these reasons into themes to better inform practical recommendations for improvements that could improve the response rate.

In order to improve the limited response rate to amber ratings, the research identified common themes that could be addressed such as: * the clarity of communication between the RPC and departments; * the time it takes to scrutinise submissions and how this relates to the time available to make improvements to impact assessments; * the level of understanding of policy areas.

The recommendations are focused on improving communication. Improved communication will help improve departments understanding of issues relating to timings, and what they are expected to do following an amber rating.

The report nevertheless includes positive findings around communication. Generally, departments were more satisfied with the impact assessment process where they felt that communication between themselves and the RPC was good.

The Committee has considered the conclusions and recommendations made within the report. Its response to each is as follows:

Recommendation 1: In order to ensure departments have (as far as possible) built in timescales that allow for RPC consideration of the impact assessments more information on the RPC scrutiny process and average turnaround timings could be published monthly on the RPC website. This would show the process as a whole very clearly and highlight typical turnaround times for opinions allowing for sufficient planning by departments.

The RPC has updated its website to provide more detailed information for departments on the RPC scrutiny process.

The RPC has previously published data on turnaround times every six months. We will start publishing this on a quarterly basis to provide more regular updates and signpost it more clearly on the RPC website. The Committee will also disseminate information on turnaround times more frequently via the Better Regulation Executive’s newsletter to departmental Better Regulation Units.

Recommendation 2: It would also be useful to make it clear at this stage the difference between the red, amber and green opinions that can be issued at consultation stage. This would ensure departments know that they also need to be building in time for potential changes to their impact assessment prior to consultation.

The RPC has updated its website to include additional information for departments who receive an amber or red rated opinion and what these ratings mean for the impact assessment going forward. This information draws on the guidance and definitions already published in the Better Regulation Framework Manual.

Recommendation 3: It would be worth making it very clear to departments that (for complex impact assessments) the secretariat offers a meeting prior to submission; this would allow areas of contention to be discussed at an early stage. More open communications channels for departments who have queries or need advice could also help those who are less familiar with the process.

The Committee ensures that departments are aware of this information through departmental Better Regulation Units and through contact with various policy colleagues. The RPC has now published additional information on the help available from the RPC, including the offer of a pre-submission meeting for more complex impact assessments, on the RPC website.

Recommendation 4: Noting the issues around timeliness, it is important that the time required for additional communication is balanced by the requirements of the policy timescale.

The Committee ensures that any additional communication with departments from its side does not unnecessarily delay the turnaround of impact assessments.

Recommendation 5: In a number of cases it seems that amending the comments prior to consultation is not seen as a priority. It may be useful to introduce some communication on why the changes are important for the consultation impact assessment as part of the process, to increase the likelihood comments will be acted upon.

The RPC has updated its website to include additional information for departments who receive an amber rated opinion, explaining to them that they are expected to make the changes prior to publication of the impact assessment for consultation purposes. The additional website text explains that the Better Regulation Executive and RPC intend to police this more thoroughly in coming months.

Recommendation 6: To aid this it would be worth considering using stronger wording in the opinion. Currently the introductory paragraph typically reads along the lines of “this impact assessment is fit-for-purpose. However, the impact assessment should do X Y and Z.” This is leading people to believe the change is optional – a wording along the lines of “The impact assessment is fit-for-purpose if X Y and Z are done”. This will also help to make it very clear which comments are regarding the consultation stage impact assessment and which relate to the final stage.

The Committee will ensure that amber rated opinions are more clearly worded so that departments know that the impact assessment will only be suitable for consultation provided it addresses RPC concerns.

Background

The 2013 Better Regulation Executive impact assessment survey found that around three-quarters of amber-rated impact assessments are published without further discussion. This raised questions concerning amber opinions. In particular, the extent to which changes were made to impact assessments in order to make them fit for purpose prior to publication, and, in instances where they are not, why this is the case. The Committee identified a lack of evidence regarding the steps departments take in response to concerns raised in amber opinions.

IFF Research was commissioned by the RPC to undertake a study, to understand the impact of RPC amber opinions. The terms of reference were as follows:

  • to determine what actions are taken following the receipt of an RPC amber opinion, whether in terms of making changes to the impact assessment before final submission, making changes to the policy itself, and/or through pursuing non-regulatory options instead;
  • to explore the barriers to taking action on comments, and the catalysts for action where it is taken; and
  • to identify whether there are any particular types of comment more likely to be acted upon, and conversely are any less likely, and the reasons for this.

The project methodology was two stage:

  • Stage 1 - A literature review of consultation stage impact assessments (as submitted and published) and related opinions.
  • Stage 2 - Qualitative primary research was undertaken with a sample of policy officials, who had received an amber opinion, to determine what, if any, steps they took to address the comments prior to publication of the consultation stage impact assessment.