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UK Government COMAH review finds opposition to charging regime

18 February 2013

Last year the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) carried out a ‘Focus on Enforcement’ review to examine the industry’s day-to-day experience of regulation and how current enforcement practices could be reformed to reduce red tape for major-hazard sites. A major problem uncovered has been the charging regime for major-hazard sites, the review has found.

Publishing its response to the consultation, BIS says its reforms will include integrated inspection regimes, greater support for companies who wish to grow their business, and introducing more transparency into the COMAH-charging appeals process.

In an article looking into the results of the review, SHP Online said the most significant irritant to chemicals businesses, in relation to COMAH enforcement, is the charging regime. Concerns about transparency and consistency were raised by businesses and trade bodies, which reported differences in the way that charges were applied and a lack of clarity, on occasions, in relation to the final bill. 

Examples of inconsistencies fed back to the review team included how inspectors’ travelling time was charged, how staff handovers were billed, and being charged when new inspectors were reading up and getting up to speed on sites.

As well as a widespread perception that chargeable hours are increasing, some businesses felt that charging is driven more by “covering the cost base, than cost recovery” and others view it as, effectively, an ‘operator tax’.

Other concerns highlighted a negative impact on the relationship between duty-holders and inspectors – with some in the sector suggesting it was becoming a disincentive to seek advice in case they were charged, or it led to an inspection; and a detrimental impact on investment – with charges identified as being sufficiently high in some cases as to affect spending decisions.

SHP Online quoted IOSH head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones as saying: “Given that some chemicals-industry operators are concerned about inconsistency and transparency issues in charging and feel that the charges seem to be growing, we're pleased to note that the regulator is responding positively and we would hope that any relevant lessons learned here can be fed across to the Fees for Intervention scheme.”

Steve Elliott, chief executive of the Chemicals Industries Association, said: “We believe this review is good news for the chemical industry and the regulation of businesses, making an essential contribution towards the UK’s economic recovery and growth.

The full review findings are at www.discuss.bis.gov.uk/focusonenforcement


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