Regulatory Policy Committee gives Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill impact assessment a red rating

Anti-strike legislation Impact Assessment ruled 'not fit for purpose'

22 Feb 2023| News

A watchdog has labelled a Government impact assessment of the anti-strike bill, Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill “not fit for purpose”.

The bill, which would see minimum service levels enforced during strike action in certain areas of the public sector, passed its third reading in the Commons unamended by 315 votes to 246 at the end of January. The legislation received its second reading in the Lords yesterday afternoon (21st February).

The impact assessment drew a broadly favourable picture of the legislation, concluding it would boost public confidence around access to vital services during walkouts and pointing to the economic benefits that would result from less disruption to day-to-day business activity.

However, the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – a group of independent experts brought together by the Department for Business to examine the impact of regulation on business and civil society – said the Government has failed to provide sufficient evidence in its assessment of the legislation and instead relied on assumptions. It placed a “red” rating on the document.

In it’s introduction to the report, the RPC said:

“This opinion covers the impact assessment (IA) for the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. As previously noted on our website, the RPC received the IA on 2nd February, several weeks after the Bill had been introduced to Parliament. We worked hard to publish our opinion as soon as possible, to assist parliamentary scrutiny as the Bill continues passage through the House of Lords. The RPC found that the IA is not-fit-for-purpose and, therefore Red rated.

Adding, “While the analysis that is included in the IA is clearly set out, the Department makes use of assumptions in the analysis which are not supported by evidence.

We would expect the Department to provide a more detailed description of the affected sectors and the costs to trade unions alongside secondary legislation. In addition, it is not clear that the IA considers all of the impacts of the new requirements that will be introduced via the Bill.”

The RPC also points out that some of the evidence provided by government is out of date – with some sources almost a decade old:

“It is not always clear what evidence has been used, or the continued relevance of that which is used (e.g., some sources are almost a decade old), to inform the content of the IA.”

The independent government watchdog says the Business department “did not follow its own policy for the timely submission of an IA to the RPC for scrutiny, to enable Parliament to consider both the IA and the RPC’s opinion.”

The bill gives ministers power to impose new minimum service levels through regulation.
But consultations on how these regulations will work have not been published, and parliamentarians have been given few details on how minimum service levels are intended to operate.

The TUC has accused the government of ducking scrutiny and “shortcutting” normal scrutiny procedures. Their General Secretary, Paul Nowak, said:

“It is telling that the government’s own independent watchdog has given ministers the red card on this Bill – and labelled it ‘not fit for purpose’. Ministers must come clean about the true nature of this nasty Bill. They must not be allowed to duck scrutiny.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, described the group’s report as a “damning judgment by independent experts”.

“Tory ministers have failed utterly to do due diligence on this shoddy, unworkable policy, breaking their own rules and failing to provide evidence for their claims.”

There hasalso  been widespread condemnation from the trade union movement of the Government, in light of the RPCs report. Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham said:

“It was clear from the start that this anti-strikes Bill is a total ‘dog’s dinner’ which will only inflame and prolong disputes. Now we can see that it has been so badly thrown together that it has received the worst verdict of any draft law that anyone can remember. The government needs to stop wasting time with its attacks on workers’ rights and focus on resolving the issues behind the current wave of strikes.”

Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said:

“This is a damning assessment of the government’s attempt to stifle the rights of workers. The independent committee is saying it is not fit for purpose and should essentially go ‘back to the drawing board. The government is ploughing ahead with an ill thought through bill that allows for nursing staff to be sacked for taking otherwise lawful strike action. Ministers would be better listening to the mounting opposition, drop the bill entirely and work with unions to resolve these disputes.”