Councils free to set regulatory priorities

Councils are set to be empowered to tailor their regulatory activities to meet local needs. A series of centrally-set regulatory priorities are planned to be replaced with looser ‘priority regulatory outcomes’.

The Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO) is consulting on plans to loosen controls on local councils’ regulatory activities. The move forms part of the government’s localism agenda to devolve power to the local level.

The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 requires councils in England and Wales to have regard to a series of national enforcement priorities, and allocate resources accordingly.

The current series, identified in the 2007 Rogers review of local regulation and enforcement, is highly specific. They cover air quality, alcohol licensing, food hygiene, workplace health and trading standards, alongside animal and public health.

But a study by the LBRO, the Institute of Local Government Studies and others found the priorities were inflexible and did not take local needs into account. Besides, “setting prescriptive priorities for local delivery from the centre is simply not reflective of the ambitions of government to decentralise power”, says the paper.

As a consequence, the LBRO has worked with representatives from local councils, professional groups and partner bodies to refresh the list. The resulting draft priority regulatory outcomes are much looser:

Protect the environment for future generations by tackling the threats and impacts of climate change

Improve quality of life and wellbeing by ensuring clean and safe public spaces

Help people to live healthier lives by preventing ill-health and harm and promoting public health

Ensure a safe, healthy and sustainable food chain for the benefit of consumers and the rural economy

Support enterprise and economic growth by ensuring a fair, responsible and competitive trading environment

In a foreword to the consultation, LBRO chair Clive Grace says these will provide, “a transparent framework that allows local delivery to support national ambitions, while empowering local regulatory services to use discretion and autonomy when tailoring approaches to the needs of local communities.”

Flood defence works or improving the energy efficiency of housing could be seen to support the first outcome. But the need for these will vary between councils. Actions to improve air quality would meet the second and third outcomes.

The shift in terminology from enforcement to regulation reflects the broad sweep of councils’ regulatory oversight that falls short of enforcement, such as providing advice and guidance.

The LBRO was established under the 2008 Act and given responsibility for driving regulatory simplification and reform at the local level (ENDS Report 405, pp 34-37). Under the current government its work will continue as a unit within the business department (BIS).

Responses to the consultation should be made by 6 May.

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