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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said today that there were examples where the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) process had helped departments to develop a better policy proposal. But there were also cases where its impact was limited because it had not been an integral part of the policy making process. Sir John’s conclusions were based on the NAO’s second annual evaluation of ten RIAs. The sample was based on a selection that the Better Regulation Task Force suggested and contained elements of good and bad practice.

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The NAO found that some RIAs were of good quality and were part of the policy-making process. These informed and challenged policy-making. Out of its sample of ten, one case even led a Department to decide not to use regulation at all. However, some RIAs had only a limited relevance in policy-making and some were done merely because they are mandatory and did not inform the policy process at all. The NAO accepts that even where RIAs have only a limited influence on policy making, they nevertheless provide a useful tool for communicating the reasons for, and expected impacts of, a Department’s decisions. But such RIAs are not fulfilling their primary role.

"Regulatory Impact Assessments are a powerful tool that can inform and challenge policy-making. I found in my evaluation that, as in last year’s sample, there were many elements of good practice in the assessments but there was also scope for improvement. It is no longer acceptable that departments just go through the motions of preparing RIAs that do not affect the policy making itself. I urge departments to produce RIAs that are started early, fully resourced and of good quality."

Sir John Bourn


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