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In a report today, head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn concluded that Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) can improve the regulatory process when undertaken thoroughly, although the RIAs themselves could be improved in some cases.

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Sir John’s conclusions were based on an evaluation of 10 RIAs undertaken by a number of Departments, six of which had already been identified by the Better Regulation Task Force as being problematic. This is the first such annual review undertaken by the NAO and, while the sample is not representative of all RIAs or all government Departments it provides a snapshot to help identify and encourage the use of good practice.

The NAO found that Departments were particularly effective in undertaking high-quality public consultation. Consultation was consistently the strongest element of the RIA process. Consultation documents were of high quality, good efforts were made to engage the public and key stakeholders, and for the most part Departments made genuine efforts to consider respondents’ views. Public consultation is important in identifying possible unintended effects of regulations, in lending credibility to the regulatory process, and increasing compliance rates.

Today’s report sets out a number of key actions that Departments need to take in order to obtain the full benefits of RIAs. The problem being addressed and the objectives of regulation need to be clearly stated and Departments should consider a range of options including not regulating. Departments need to take into account uncertainties surrounding implementation costs, expected benefits, and anticipated compliance rates. Finally, Departments should clearly define how they will monitor regulations and assess whether objectives are being met.

"I welcome the Regulatory Impact Assessment process as a rigorous framework for policy making. There were many elements of good practice in the assessments I examined but there was also scope for improvement in some cases. The report highlights these learning points and should help Departments to improve the process. I look forward to working alongside the Better Regulation Task Force and the Cabinet Office Regulatory Impact Unit to help secure improvements in the quality of RIAs so that regulations achieve benefits to society without placing an undue burden on businesses, charities and voluntary organisations."

Sir John Bourn


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