The coalition government have slammed on the brakes for the planned extension of civil sanctions to the environmental permitting regime. Or rather Oliver Letwin has.
Civil sanctions, being trail-blazed by the Environment Agency, allows it to exact certain powers without the hassle of going to court. These range from fixed monetary notices and stop notices to restoration notices and "enforcement undertakings." The latter being an agreed course of corrective action to bring a company back into compliance without having to face prosecution.
But while the Agency can apply its new powers to some offences there are some important exceptions - not least environmental permitting. Secondary legislation enabling this to take effect from 6 April was due to be laid before Parliament this month. But Letwin is not convinced this is the way forward. Progress, therefore, has been halted.
This is not the only area where Letwin is making his mark. In his capacity as minister for government policy at the Cabinet Office he is reading everything that is passing his desk and isn't afraid of halting the progress of policy if it doesn't stack up, according to sources in Whitehall.
Let's hope so. We wrote to him last week highlighting the findings of our 2010 telephone survey of members which found half of those interviewed thought the sheer burden of regulation was a barrier to growth. We highlighted how the poor quality of impact assessments required a change in policy-making culture and that even a small increase in the transparency of how impact assessments are developed would help restore credibility in the system.
No more plainly is this evident than in climate change regulation. Currently, government is reforming Climate Change Agreements and the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. New duties to report greenhouse gas emissions are being considered. Alongside this a carbon floor price and energy market reforms. We are concerned that this work is being carried out in a piecemeal way, and we have had little evidence or reassurance that the impact of the work in this area is being considered strategically. The recent consultation on the carbon floor price did not even seek to understand the potential impacts on manufacturing (see a summary of our response here).
Let's hope that Letwin kicks this into touch. We need a strategic vision. We need certainty of policy direction. And we need to see climate change and energy policy implemented cost effectively if manufacturing in the UK is to remain viable for the many.