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Government is committed to conducting formal impact assessments of the need for and likely impact of new regulations. A National Audit Office report has found that scrutiny of proposed legislation is strengthening and that the standard is better than it was, but one fifth of assessments still did not include any quantified data to assess costs or benefits.

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The Better Regulation Executive (BRE) has introduced new guidance, templates and training to improve the quality of impact assessments and, as a result, impact assessments have clearer presentation of results, better planning for implementation, and more quantification of costs and benefits.

But wide variation remains between the best and worst impact assessments. Where they are done well, the impact assessments include a clear statement of the policy problem, make good use of consultation and have clear recommendations.

On the other hand, only 20 per cent of impact assessments presented the results of an evaluation of a range of regulatory options. Many impact assessments did not pay enough attention to compliance and enforcement issues. For example, only one third of assessments assessed the cost of enforcement for the preferred option.

There have been improvements in the analysis of costs and benefits. In 2008, 67 per cent of impact assessments quantified costs and 60 per cent quantified benefits. Under the previous arrangements, the figures were 56 per cent for quantified costs and 40 per cent for quantified benefits. There is, however, still wide variation in the level of evidence provided and insufficient analysis in the weaker impact assessments.


"The quality of published assessments of the impact of proposed regulations has improved. But the standard varies widely and, while there is better quantification of the costs and benefits, a minority still contain a superficial evidence base or standard of analysis.

"Departments should raise the standard of evidence used to assess the options for achieving the objectives of new regulations. They should also give greater thought to how regulations will be enforced after implementation."

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office


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