Advice falls on DTI’s deaf ears

first_imgAdvice falls on DTI’s deaf earsOn 7 Mar 2000 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. Advice from the Government’s own regulation watchdog could have been writtenfor the Personnel Today/EFSP campaign, says Philip Whiteley, but the DTI stillchose to ignore it In April 1999, the new Secretary of State for Trade & Industry StephenByers sat down to a meeting with a small group representing major employers ina highly secretive meeting. On the agenda was how to amend the Working Timeregulations to reduce the paperwork and increase exemptions for managers.At the same time, government watchdog the Better Regulation Task Forceproduced its report on enforcement of regulation, which denounced the practiceof “rounding up the usual suspects” in consulting procedures. It wenton, “Of particular concern is the practice of informal pre-consultation withcertain representatives which skews the options for discussion in a way that isneither transparent nor accountable.”Narrow debate News of Byers’ clandestine discussions was leaked to Personnel Today, muchto the dismay of those involved, who feared that a backlash from the tradeunions would scupper the talks. The TUC did indeed protest about what it saw asa watering down of the directive, but Byers weathered the storm. Rather thanopen up negotiations, however, he formally announced the plans in July, withjust two weeks’ consultation.While the meeting’s outcome was welcomed by most employers, the revelationthat the DTI ignored the Government’s own watchdog causes disquiet. Secretivestrategies tend to produce errors in law.In the same report, the Task Force emphasises the point – that those withrelevant experience will better spot the flaws in any proposed law than DTIofficials.”It is heartening that the Government’s own advisers were making thesensible point, but worrying that the DTI was apparently not listening – thatwill have to change,” said EFSP chief executive Robbie Gilbert.The condemnation by the task force produced not a hint of a blush atVictoria Street, which continued in similar spirit. Formal consultation on thefar-reaching Part-Time Workers directive has been squeezed into six weeks – outof a maximum 104, given that the UK like any other EU country has two years totranslate a directive into domestic law.Forward thinkingFurther extracts from the task force report show its prescience – it couldhave been written for the Personnel Today/Employers’ Forum on Statute andPractice campaign. “It is important that all those affected are consultedearly enough to have some influence,” it stated. “Those who are beingconsulted are probably engrossed in their immediate business and interests, soit is important to make it easy for them to take part.”Give them the information they need in plain language, be clear aboutwhat is open to consultation and change and give them sufficient time torespond.”Looked at objectively, it is odd that there are no standard processes –particularly for proposed regulations which, unlike a Bill, have limitedParliamentary scrutiny.The Institute of Directors recommends at least three months’ properconsultation plus a further two months or more for employers to have time todigest and familiarise themselves with the law. “We have had just sixweeks to respond to the Part-Time regulations,” said business policyexecutive Richard Wilson. “The Parental Leave regulations came into forceon 15 December; the guidelines were not published until 24 hours after.Allowing a decent amount of time to get to know new laws is important,Wilson added, as penalties for making a mistake have increased spectacularlywith the quadrupling of the maximum penalty for unfair dismissal. DTI defenceIt is not as if the DTI has always got it wrong. On the initial consultationon union recognition – which formed part of the Employment Relations Act – itinvolved both unions and the CBI in an exercise that saw the two adversariesreduce their differences on the complex formula for ballots on whether unionsshould have negotiating rights.The DTI’s defence is that consultation must be fit for purpose. “Everyconsultation is different, and with different external timetables – differentgroups affected and varying complexity involved,” said a spokeswoman.”A major public consultation on a Green Paper would not be treated in thesame way as a very technical matter affected a limited number of people.”The department accepts the recommendations of the task force and agrees thatthe process should be “transparent and accountable”. On thepre-consultation meetings, she added, they are not used to “skewoptions”.”Policy is not developed in a vacuum. We need clear understanding ofthe issues and options if we are going to have effective consultations. Gettingthis requires exploratory discussions.” The delay to the Part-Time workconsultation document was longer than hoped, but “time was needed to getthe proposals right”.On Working Time changes last year, the DTI spokeswoman argued that thesewere not a major change as they lightened the regulatory burden withoutaffecting employee rights. This interpretation is strongly challenged by theTUC. She pointed to the establishment of the Tupe Forum, to discuss laws onbusiness transfers, as a “model example” of consultation.The tone from the DTI is defensive. But the EFSP is keen to stress that thecampaign is about making legislation workable, not to oppose the law’s aims.And disquiet does come from human resource practitioners, not onlyrepresentative bodies. “This is a general matter – it is an IPD positionas well,” said Sue Adams, head of human resources at the North WestDevelopment Agency. There is a great deal of criticism that there is notsufficient consultation. The story seems to be, ‘We’ll see how it goes, andwait for things to fall at the first hurdle’.”Ignorance of the law is, of course, no defence in a court, and penalties forignorance have risen. There is straightforward advice from the Government’swatchdog to ensure that people are fully informed, and practitioners are rightto be puzzled that it is rarely followed.The Better Regulation Task ForceWhat is The Better Regulation Task Force?The Better Regulation Task Force was appointed in September 1997 to adviseGovernment on regulatory issues. The aim is to give advice on how to improveregulations so that they are appropriate to the requirement and keep paperworkto a minimum.Is this just a quango to police other quangos? That is not quite accurate. It is an advisory body comprising individualsfrom across different sectors. The idea is that they can help governmentdepartments improve their record on regulation. It does not generate rules orred tape in itself.Is it a toothless talking shop, then?The jury is still out – its success depends on whether governmentdepartments heed its sensible, well written advice. If government lawyers andofficials continue to embroider secretly done deals between ministers andselected parties, the same pattern will continue.Are any more reports due out on the consultation process?A report due out next month on small firms, and one later in the year onpay-roll, will consider consultation arrangements.What are the terms of reference?”To advise the Government on action which improves the effectivenessand credibility of government regulation by ensuring that it is necessary, fairand affordable, and simple to understand and administer, taking particularaccount of the needs of small businesses and ordinary people.” Previous Article Next Articlelast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *