Actal’s activities in 2014: Focus on one-off costs, SMEs and multi-level regulatory management

ACTAL_report2014

The report “Less Regulatory Burden, More Individual Initiatives. Annual Report 2014” covers the activities of the Dutch Oversight Body ACTAL in 2014. In this year Actal continued to formulate ex-ante opinions on legislative proposals in order to minimize regulatory burden. It also issued strategic opinions and “sector scans” for the purposeful reduction of regulatory burdens within specific policy areas.

In particular, Actal completed in 2014 a strategic opinion on one-off costs that occur when legislation and regulations change. Research conducted on this topic highlighted that ministries do not pay sufficient attention to one-off costs or in the fact that these are sometimes so high that it takes years before any structural reduction in the burden can compensate the costs of change imposed on regulatees which have to learn about new rules. Since 2009, the Dutch Cabinet has had an important instrument for limiting the costs of obtaining information about changes in legislation and regulations: the common commencement dates (CCD). What this instrument does is to ensure that legislative changes may only be carried out on certain fixed days of the year so that they are predictable and the costs associated with obtaining information about them are lower for businesses and citizens. However, findings gathered by Actal shows that 43% of the relevant legislative changes do not comply with the CCD system.

Actal also conducted a survey which compares the regulatory burden for small businesses in 2013 compared with 2007 (from an earlier survey). It shows that small businesses still notice little reduction in the regulatory burden. Actal makes the recommendation to carry out further research into why the regulatory burden for these businesses has fallen so little. Further, it recommends applying the ‘Think Small First’ principle that Europe adopts, as a starting point for new legislation and regulations in the Netherlands.

In its opinion to the Dutch House of Representatives on 14 November 2014, Actal made recommendations on improving the quality of reports on progress in the noticeable reduction of the regulatory burden for citizens, businesses and professionals in the Netherlands since it has found a number of shortcomings and ambiguities preventing a clear evaluation of the progress. In the reports published by ministries legislation and regulations that may not count towards the reduction target remain out of the picture regulatory burden despite having substantial consequences for the regulatory burden. This mainly concerns the substantive costs of compliance with legislation and regulations originating in Europe and the one-off regulatory burden impact of Dutch legislation and regulations which is very noticeable to businesses, citizens and professionals.

Since 2011, Actal’s mandate includes the order to carry out regular surveys into whether and to what extent ministries are properly living up to this responsibility, to which end Actal periodically conducts the Regulatory Burden Audit which investigates whether the ministries are presenting the regulatory burden properly and completely. The first audit took place in 2012. As a result Actal decided to conduct the audit once every two years rather than annually. This gives ministries enough time and opportunity to follow up the recommendations from the first audit. The results of the second audit are scheduled for April 2015.

A major change concerns multi-level regulatory management since Actal’s new Constituent Act issued in November 2014 act set out that it may, at the request of municipalities, deliver opinions to municipalities and the VNG (Association of Dutch Municipalities). This means that municipalities can make use of the Actal’s expertise around the in the field of regulatory burden, built up over around 15 years. Further,  Actal is involved in the “Beter en concreter (Better and more concrete) Programme: good regulations – focused service”. This is a joint programme of the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and Ministry of Economic Affairs, for the purpose of tackling the regulatory burden and improving the (legal) quality of regulations at the local level. Finally, representatives of the VNG attend the “Best practice meetings” where staff of almost all ministries swapped experiences among one another about burden reduction.

(Fabrizio Di Mascio)