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It's all change analysis-wise in corridors of power


government buildings deposit photo

government buildings deposit photo

government buildings deposit photo

In June 2005, Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) was introduced by the Government to assess the likely effects of regulatory changes.

Since then, all Government Departments and offices have been required to conduct an RIA for primary legislation involving changes to regulations; on significant Statutory Instruments, and on proposals for EU Directives and significant EU regulations, when they are published by the European Commission.

An RIA must also be conducted by all Policy Review Groups where primary legislation or a significant regulatory change is being proposed.

The current Government endorsed the RIA process in its Programme for Government in April 2011, and set a requirement for Departments to carry out and publish RIAs before Government decisions are agreed. There is plenty of evidence of RIAs actually being published.

The websites of most Departments demonstrate that they are meeting the commitment to publish; although, in the case of many Departments' websites, it is necessary to dig deep to find the published RIAs.

There is, however, an absence of an overall record of the number of RIAs that has been undertaken and published. Moreover, it is not easy to ascertain if there are regulatory proposals being put forward without RIAs having been undertaken.

While the number of RIAs being published is one thing, the quality of RIAs is another matter. The Cabinet Handbook does specify that any submission seeking approval for legislation involving changes to the regulatory framework including the transposition of EU Directives and Regulations must be accompanied by an RIA. It is silent as regards what happens if RIAs are not deemed to have reached certain quality standards. Since 2006, the European Commission has been tackling this issue by having an Impact Assessment Board provide independent quality control of impact assessments produced by the Commission Services.

The Board's Annual Report for 2013 shows that 41pc of the impact assessments submitted did not meet the quality standards expected when first submitted to the Board, and hence had to be reworked before being resubmitted to the Board.

Last month, the European Commission announced even more robust arrangements for scrutinising impact assessments, akin to RIAs. A new Regulatory Scrutiny Board has been set up, replacing the existing Board. The new Board provides a central quality control and support function for Commission impact assessment and evaluation work.

It will be examining and publishing opinions on all the Commission's draft impact assessments and of major evaluations and "fitness checks" of existing legislation. In principle, a positive opinion is needed from the Board for an initiative accompanied by an impact assessment to be tabled for adoption by the Commission.

All impact assessments and all related opinions are to be published once the Commission has adopted the relevant proposal.

The new Board is independent of the policy- making departments in the Commission. It is chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General responsible for Better Regulation.

In its new set-up, three members will be high-level Commission officials while three members will be recruited from outside the Commission. All members will work for the Board full time, with no other policy responsibilities.

In 2010, the OECD published a report on Better Regulation in Ireland. One of its conclusions was that the RIA process in Ireland continued to operate within a weak institutional framework which does not sufficiently "scare" departments into co-operating for the production of quality RIAs. Against this background, there is a good case to be made for having a scrutiny Board in Ireland, similar to the EU's Regulatory Scrutiny Board. It would help to ensure that RIAs did in fact fulfil quality standards.

There is little point in having RIAs produced merely as a box-ticking exercise. Their true value lies in helping government to make decisions by providing evidence of the positive and negative effects of different options for regulatory change.

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He was formerly the Department of Transport's Senior Economist

Irish Independent