Smarter guidance could save firms £1bn

21st May 2013

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UK businesses could save more than £1 billion over 10 years, if government guidelines on environment legislation were easier to follow, claims Defra

The UK economy is losing millions each year because businesses are “wading through” long, complicated guidance documents in a bid to remain compliant with environmental regulations the environment secretary Owen Paterson has claimed.

Launching the latest stage in the government’s programme to cut “red tape”, Paterson said that firms were faced with “too much complex information” and that government agencies needed to be “smarter” in how they asked for environmental data from organisations.

Defra estimates that environment managers are spending up to two days each month keeping up to speed with legislative requirements. It also says a significant proportion of the £1.2 billion spent annually on environment consultants is likely to be spent on explaining the regulatory framework to businesses.

In a report on the first phase of Defra’s review of environmental regulation, the environment department reveals that there are approximately 6,000 guidance documents published by the government and its agencies, totaling more than 100,000 pages. It also points out that there are 250 separate data reporting requirements, which businesses have to report to different places, at different times and in different formats.

“Taking up too much of businesses’ time can be an unseen barrier to growth. With clearer, simpler guidance we can save a great deal of time and money for businesses to put to better use,” said Paterson.

“We want to make it easier for businesses to find and follow the law with a single version of straightforward guidance for each topic.”

Defra has launched a 12-month initiative called “smarter guidance and data” to streamline and move the bulk of environmental guidance online through, and is asking organisations how guidelines and data collections can be improved.

The department claims that it should be able to reduce the time needed for new businesses to find out about their legal obligations towards the environment by “at least 80%”, helping firms to cut costs, while ensuring regulations remain effective.

Feedback from industry and practitioners so far has highlighted the Environment Agency’s guidance on its operational risk appraisal scheme, Natural England’s great crested newt mitigation guidelines, and guidance on the Oil Storage Regulations as examples of poorly written or overly-lengthy guidance.

Outdated documents, such as the Defra guidance on the Duty of Care waste obligations, were revealed to be particularly frustrating for businesses.

Over the next six months, the environment department will be asking for feedback from industry across nine legislative areas including: environmental permitting; waste management; water management; emissions; and hazardous materials.

The initial consultation, which runs until 5 July, asks for views on what businesses need from guidance in areas such as: wildlife protection; waste management; environment permits; sustainability and energy efficiency; energy, carbon and other greenhouse gases.

The environment department is also calling on organisations to provide details on how data obligations affect their business and where there are opportunities to make information collection more straightforward.

Separately Defra has launched a 12-week joint consultation with Decc on whether EU policies are helping or hindering UK efforts to tackle climate change and protect the environment.

The consultation, which closes on 12 August, is part of a wider review known as the “balance of competences”, which was launched last July and aims to understand the balance of power between the EU and the UK on environment issues.

It asks how far the UK might benefit from the EU taking more, or less, action on the climate change, and whether EU legislation provides the right balance between protecting the environment and wider economic interests.

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