New issue/re-launch of journal Administration available

A new issue of the journal Administration is out today.

To mark the journal’s ‘re-launch’, this issue is available in full for free online here.

As many readers will know, Administration is published by the Institute of Public Administration, and has been a key locus for research-led debate on economic development, and of course on wider developments in the public sector and society, since 1953.

The current issue includes prefatory articles from the incoming editor Muiris MacCarthaigh, who `sets out his stall’, and from Tony McNamara, who has edited Administration since 1989. These will be of interest no doubt to a wide readership and to various contributor bases, (e.g., from academic, practitioner and civil society perspectives).

As the contents indicate, the focus of this issue is on public sector reform, with an opening piece by Brendan Howlin TD, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I guess that Ministers historically have been uneven in how or whether they contribute to debate at this level; perhaps this is a good cue to them, and to politicians more generally, to get their quills out.

Contents
Notes from the Editors:

  • “Renewing public administration research and practice” by Muiris MacCarthaigh
  • “A final word” by Tony McNamara

Articles:


  • “Reform of the public service” by Brendan Howlin, TD
  • “Progress and pitfalls in public service reform and performance management in Ireland” by Mary Lee Rhodes & Richard Boyle
  • “Regulating everything: From mega- to meta-regulation” by Colin Scott
  • “Trust and public administration” by Geert Bouckaert
  • “The reform of public administration in Northern Ireland: a squandered opportunity?” by Colin Knox

Reviews:

  • Third report of the Organisational Review Programme
  • The challenge of change: Putting patients before providers

www.ipa.ie/administration

Regulating the Legal Profession Conference

As has already been noted the Government is in the process of implementing a commitment in the EU/IMF aid package to re-regulate aspects of the legal profession in Ireland with a view to enhancing competitiveness in the sector. The Legal Services Regulation Bill has been controversial in some of its aspects and UCD School of Law is hosting a conference, drawing in a variety of overseas and local experts, with a view to locating debates within a wider international context.The keynote speaker will be Lynn Mather, Professor of Law & Political Science, Buffalo University. Other speakers include Isolde Goggin, Chair of the Competition Authority, Julian Webb, Professor of Legal Education, University of Warwick and Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. A full programme and online booking facilities are available at http://www.ucd.ie/reggov/.

Legal Services Regulation Bill

The Department of Justice has published a press release indicating that the Legal Services Regulation Bill is to be published within the next few days, having received the approval of cabinet.

Regulatory reform in respect of legal services is a key commitment in theEU/IMF Programme for Financial Support for Ireland. A blueprint for reform, indicated in the financial support programme, was provided by the Competition Authority’s 2006 report on the legal professions. The detailed indications of the content of the Bill in the press release suggest the government has rejected some aspects of the Competition Authority report. Notably the proposal that a new regulator would oversee professional self-regulation (as occurs in England and Wales through the Legal Services Board established in 2009) appears to have given way to a new regulatory body which will have direct responsibility for oversight of the professions.

In addition to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, two further new public bodies are to be established: an Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator (who will take on regulatory functions over costs currently administered by the Taxing Master) and a Legal Professions Disciplinary Tribunal which will take over responsibility for addressing complaints of professional misconduct, currently administered by the Bar Council and the Law Society of Ireland.

The central rationale stated for the reforms is the promotion of a more competitive environment for provision of legal services, and this is reflected in proposals to allocate tasks concerning entry to the profession and the education of lawyers to the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority so as to liberalize certain aspects of professional education and end the situation under which the profession is both provider and regulator of legal education.

The establishment of three distinct agencies may be controversial and raises the question whether the variety of functions could be undertaken by a single agency. The press release indicates that the industry will be levied to pay for the new regulatory bodies (as occurs with a number of existing regulatory bodies such as the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland). Comments in the press suggest that the professions are concerned that the power of the minister to appoint members of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority will compromise the professional independence of lawyers. It is actually not unusual to find ministers exercising such powers of appointment (appointments to the Legal Services Board in England and Wales are made by a government minister, the Lord Chancellor). Clearly board members must be appointed by someone and ministers are accountable to parliament for their actions. Even the most independent of actors within the legal system, judges, are appointed by ministers (though this is not uncontroversial).

Certain of the more controversial aspects of potential reform, such as fusing the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions and introducing multi-disciplinary partnerships have been assigned to the new Regulatory Authority for research and consideration rather than be provided for directly in the Bill, according to the press release.

‘Regulation in the Age of Crisis’

An international and interdisciplinary conference on regulatory governance is being held at UCD next week, 17-19 June, under the auspices of the European Consortium of Political Research Standing Group on Regulatory Governance. There will be more than 200 papers presented. Streams include 8 panels on regulation and the financial crisis, and also streams on regulating for sustainability, the politics of regulation, the governance of risk and technology regulation, non-state regulation and regulating network industries. A variety of disciplines are represented, including political science, socio-legal studies, business and economics. The programme, including details of registration, is available on the conference website. The conference papers are being uploaded to this site also and are freely available.

How Many Regulatory Agencies Are There and What Does it Mean?

My post last week on Smart Regulation drew out a number of responses which argued, in essence, that there are too many regulatory agencies in Ireland. For some the proliferation of regulatory agencies is taken as an indicator that there is too much regulation. I do not think it is possible to draw inferences about the quantity or intensity of regulation from the numbers of agencies.

What is perhaps more interesting than the bare numbers of regulatory agencies is their growth. It is noted in the Government report Bodies in Ireland with Regulatory Powers (2007) that since the White Paper on Regulating Better declared a virtual moratorium on the creation of new regulatory agencies in 2004 (‘The Government will create new sectoral regulators only if the case for a new regulator can be clearly demonstrated in light of existing structures’) ten new agencies had been created and a further nine were planned. The admitted failure of government to follow its own self-denying ordinance raises the questions what has happened to regulatory agency numbers, how can the pattern be explained, and what does it mean?

Bodies in Ireland with Regulatory Powers concluded that of the 213 bodies with statutory regulatory powers eight of these were non-state bodies, 114 were local authorities, nine were regional fisheries boards, and 15 were government departments. This leaves 67 central state agencies with regulatory powers, but not all of these are primarily regulators, and some are not regulators of business. The Labour Court, for example, is chiefly an adjudicatory body and the Higher Education Authority is chiefly a transfer agency (although the handing out of cash clearly is used for regulatory purposes), and the Revenue Commissioner are mainly concerned with collecting taxes.

New UCD Geary Institute Research suggests that numbers of agencies for which the primary function is regulatory held fairly steady at just under twenty between 1950 and 1990  but that the number increased by 50 per cent in the 1990s and had more than doubled from the higher base to 68 by 2008 (Source: Mapping the Irish State project database  (funded by IRCHSS)).

How can this growth be explained and what does it mean? Some of the agencies established since 1990 were created to meet European Community obligations to regulated independently both of dominant incumbent firms and of government departments with stakes in the industries concerned – notably communications and energy. In other instances there was a concern to establish the credibility of a regulatory function previously exercised in a government department – the Food Safety Authority of Ireland provides a key example. In some instances there has been a sense that government departments will struggle to develop and sustain the expertise and focus necessary for a regulatory task. In other instances the establishment of new agencies can more readily be explained by a combination of fashion (regulatory agencies have become a stock solution to all manner of public policy problems) and political need to demonstrate symbolically a commitment to sorting out some high-profile problem. The Health Information and Quality Authority springs to mind as an example of this. Politics may also play a role government sees the potential to shift the blame when things go wrong with regulatory regimes – examples are legion so I shall not name names.

Does the growth in regulatory agencies demonstrate that there is too much regulation? Actually it tells us little about the quantity and intensity of regulation. It is perfectly possible to have masses of regulation with few or no regulatory agencies (Japan is a case in point). One might argue that all these agencies are very costly, but typically they have relatively small budgets and their financial significance in most cases is likely to lie more in the negative or positive effects they have on economic and social activity more generally (their impact rather than their direct costs).

The growth of regulatory agencies tells us more about the changing style of government in Ireland. There has been a trend away from direct provision of services in the network sectors towards regulated oversight of private provision ( and this common to many European countries) and, distinctly, a shift towards external oversight with a greater degree of transparency at arms-length both from government and from industry. Ireland provides a core example of a regulatory state. Indeed, the limited direct state provision of welfare services historically supports an argument that in some ways Ireland was a regulatory state avant la lettre.

As I hinted in my previous post the challenge of enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of regulatory governance is unlikely to be met through an exclusive focus on cutting or merging regulatory bodies (as Brian Lenihan proposed in the October budget), but rather through developing a better understanding of where the capacity to develop and deliver on regulatory objectives lies, and finding ways to harness that capacity (whether it lies with state agencies, firms or civil society organisations or more typically a mixture) through the varied processes of meta-regulation.

SMART or Smart Regulation?

The ‘smart regulation’ dimension of the ‘smart economy’ has not been much discussed. Conceived of properly and implemented well smart regulation offers a way for governments to better understand and harness the different ways of mixing instruments and actors to get regulatory tasks done. It invites all stakeholders to think outside the usual boxes and then frequently re-visit institutional choices to fine tune regimes where outcomes are inappropriate.

In the Government’s White Paper Building Ireland’s Smart Economy  ‘smart regulation’ was linked to broader public sector reform. The smart regulation measures were described in the following way:
‘Reduce the administrative burdens for citizens  and improve the quality of regulation  through tools such as e-government,  regulatory impact analysis and by enhancing the accessibility of the statute book.’

In essence this usage is consistent with that of the Canadian Government’s 2004 Smart Regulation programme which adopted a business usage of the acronym SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. The best examples of SMART regulation, in this sense, involve reviewing proposed and existing regulatory rules to ensure they are proportionate to the aims sought and targeting enforcement more effectively at higher risk areas of activity. These measures are the primacy focus of Better Regulation programmes adopted in Ireland and in most OECD member states.

Continue reading “SMART or Smart Regulation?”