The HSE’s controversial Fees for Intervention process has been strongly criticised in a major independent review of the safety watchdog, backed by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Martin Temple, chair of the Engineering Employers Federation, who carried out the HSE’s first ever triennial review, called Fees for Intervention “a dangerous model” which potentially undermined the integrity of the HSE and called for further consultation on its use.
Temple said: “While my remit for this review was primarily to consider the continuing need for HSE’s function, the wealth of comments I received from stakeholders regarding the Fee for Intervention regime has compelled me to address the issue. I am very concerned at the strength of feeling from stakeholders that FFI has damaged the HSE’s reputation for acting impartially and independently, and therefore its integrity as a regulator.”
Temple set out a series of recommendations on Fees for Intervention, which raised nearly three quarter of a million pounds in its first six months of operation. These included a further review on the views of stakeholders on how FFI is working. Temple also recommended that:
- if FFI is to be retained, whether the threshold for FFI has been set at the right level
- whether there is evidence that the anticipated incentives to comply have made a difference and improved health and safety performance
- whether there have been any detrimental impacts on the behaviour of HSE
- inspectors and/or those inspected and/or on health and safety performance
- consideration of alternative sources of income, which should be tested against the same criteria.
Fees for Intervention aims to shift the burden of inspection costs to those in breach of health and safety rules
“I recommend that unless the link between ‘fines’ and funding can be removed or the benefits can be shown to outweigh the detrimental effects, and it is not possible to minimise those effects, FFI should be phased out,” said Temple.
Carrying out a triennial review of the HSE brings it in line with normal government policy, which is that that all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) should undergo a substantive review at least once every three years. The triennial review process concluded that there is a continuing need for the functions that HSE delivers, and a very strong case for those functions to continue to be delivered by an arms-length body.
It concluded that “that, on the whole, HSE is operating with the level of control and governance that should be expected of an arm’s length body of its size and profile.”
Temple’s stance has generally been welcomed by health and safety bodies. Alex Botha, chief executive of the British Safety Council, responding to the report said: “The British Safety Council believes that in order for Great Britain to continue to be effective in preventing workplace injuries and work-related ill-health we need a properly resourced, expert and independent regulator. We welcome the government’s acknowledgement of the continuing need for HSE to help to achieve that goal. That view was overwhelmingly supported by our more than 6,000 corporate members.
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“We note that Temple highlighted concerns over the recently introduced cost recovery scheme, ‘Fee for Intervention’ (FFI). Many of these concerns reflect the views of our members we submitted to the review so we welcome the recommendations concerning the planned review of FFI to be expanded to examine these issues.
“In his report Temple acknowledges that HSE’s funding from government has fallen significantly over the last ten years and that it is likely to continue reducing. We fully endorse the government and Temple’s view that HSE must embrace innovation and efficiency to make the most of the money it receives. However, we must be realistic about what more HSE can realistically do with its finite resources.
“In principle we support the overall approach that the Temple report recommended concerning the potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and delivery. However, there are dangers in over-commercialising HSE’s functions and increased public service involvement in a market which is already well provided for. We recognise that some 40% of HSE’s current expenditure is already covered by the income it generates.”
Prospect union also welcomed the findings. Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “We are delighted that the fourth review of the HSE in recent years once more confirms that the agency is fit for purpose and benefits workers and employers across the UK. We welcome author Martin Temple’s finding that the HSE’s functions should continue to be delivered by a non-departmental public body, allowing it to retain its independence and his praise for the professionalism and competence of staff.
“However, the review rightly raises concerns about the new ‘fee for intervention’ model, which links the regulator’s funding to its income from ‘fines’.
“FFI was rushed in to fill gaps in HSE’s budget caused by government cuts. Prospect warned that the proposals would be perceived as a business burden and risked damaging the regulatory balance.
“We have been proved right. We strongly back the review’s call to remove the link between funding and fines. It is the wrong solution to funding. HSE has lost experienced inspectors because of the cuts and difficulties caused by FFI.”