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Last May two quite different publications examined the quality of impact assessments. One was from the Regulatory Scrutiny Board of the European Union, on 13 May. https://commission.europa.eu/publications/regulatory-scrutiny-board-annual-report-2023_en

The second was issued by the Regulatory Policy Committee for the United Kingdom, on 24 May https://rpc.blog.gov.uk/2024/05/24/rpc-provides-greater-transparency-on-government-impact-assessments/

Both publications confirmed the importance of governments having oversight bodies to monitor the output of impact assessments. At present, Ireland does not have such an oversight body. However, the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD) did recommend, in a report published in 2023, entitled ‘Strengthening Policy Development in the Public Sector in Ireland’, that Ireland should have such a body. Moreover, it suggested that Ireland might – “… consider strengthening the regulatory oversight function… [with]…Annual reports… on compliance rates and the quality of RIAs by department to gently incentivise the enhancement of RIAs. Departments could potentially be prevented from taking a draft legislative proposal to cabinet if an RIA is deemed to be of poor quality or if the department has failed to publish an RIA for stakeholder consultation.”  https://www.oecd.org/gov/strengthening-policy-development-in-the-public-sector-in-ireland-6724d155-en.htm

This blog looks at the recent publications from the EU and the UK that capture the scrutiny work that is being done on impact assessments.

Scrutiny in the European Union 

The EU has a Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) which is an independent body within the Commission that advises the College of Commissioners. In its work, the Board reviews and issues opinions and recommendations on the Commission’s draft impact assessments, fitness checks, and on major evaluations of existing legislation. The Board also provides cross-cutting advice on better regulation policy to the Commission’s Secretariat-General. Opinions issued by the Board on impact assessments are rated under a three-phase scoring system – ‘positive,’ ‘positive with reservations,’ or ‘negative.’ Opinions that are either considered ‘positive’ or ‘positive with reservations’ allow Commission draft reports to go forward to be tabled for adoption by the Commission. In the case of a ‘negative opinion,’ the draft report in question  must be reviewed and resubmitted to the Board before it can proceed. When the Board has given a negative opinion twice, it is only the Vice-President for Inter-institutional Relations and Foresight that may submit the initiative for the College of Commissioners to decide whether to go ahead. All impact assessments and the related opinions of the Board are published online once the Commission has adopted the relevant proposal. 

Table 1 summarises the work of the RSB over the last eight years. In interpreting the data, it is preferable to exclude the year 2019, as work virtually stopped during the European Elections of that year (the same will happen when data for 2024 come to analysed). If one takes the other seven year presented in the table, the data show that the Board scrutinised an average of 62 impact assessments each year. The average rate of negative opinions for initial submissions of impact assessments in those seven years was 38 per cent. No ‘negative second opinions’ were recorded in either 2002 0r 2003. In earlier years, the ‘negative second opinions’ recorded were between 1 and 4. 

Scrutiny in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Regulatory Policy Committee assesses the quality of impact assessments. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/regulatory-policy-committee   The Committee publishes opinions on assessments which state whether the department’s estimate of the direct costs of the measure and the assessment of the impacts on small and micro businesses is fit for purpose or not. It also rates the quality of the assessment of ‘rationale and objectives,’ ‘cost-benefit analysis,’ ‘wider impacts,’ and ‘monitoring and evaluation’ (these are rated either ‘good,’ ‘satisfactory,’ ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’). The Committee has published a spread sheet which allow individual assessment to be examined. It is located at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/summary-of-published-rpc-opinions

Table 2 summarises the results the assessment for the years since 2000 by individual government departments. In overall terms, 72 per cent were deemed ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’, while 28 per cent were considered ‘weak’ or ‘very weak’.

Table 2: UK Impact Assessments: 2020/May 2024

UK Government Departments

Number

‘Good’ or ‘Satisfactory’

‘Weak’ or ‘Very Weak’

Business & Trade

5

75%

25%

Business Energy & Industrial Strategy

25

90%

10%

Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

20

79%

21%

Education

5

50%

50%

Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

12

58%

42%

Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

9

47%

53%

Transport

19

75%

25%

Work & Pensions

8

72%

28%

Health & Social Care

6

54%

46%

Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

12

75%

25%

HM Treasury

7

71%

29%

Other Departments

14

62%

38%

All Final Stage Impact Assessments

142

72%

28%

To give a flavour of the data that were assembled, the UK’s Regulatory Policy Committee included some comments. Here are two of them: –

  • Thirty-five assessments received Initial Review Notices (giving departments scope to make improvements). Over three-quarters (29) of these were then improved and ultimately received green opinions.


Some conclusions

This blog has looked at the scrutiny work on impact assessments undertaken by the EU and by the UK. It is clear that having oversight bodies allow governments to keep the production of impact assessment under review. And it is not just a matter of producing assessments. There is also the need to ensure that they are published. Making impact assessments widely available helps to make the policy development process more transparent and accessible to stakeholders. Having such work widely available also helps those conducting impact assessments, for the first time, to have published examples of previous assessments to assist them in undertaking their own assessments.

Tom Ferris, Consultant Economist.


Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and blogs regularly for PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport, Ireland.