I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
As the Deputies are aware, the high level group on regulation and the quality customer service working group are key parts of the public service modernisation programme in my Depart ment. As I informed the House in my reply on 27 November 2001, considerable progress has been made by the high level group on regulation since its establishment in May 2001 following publication of the OECD review of regulatory reform in Ireland. The group has met eight times to date and is currently overseeing progress in two main areas.
First, a public consultation document on better regulation is being finalised. This will be the starting point for a wide ranging consultation process on better regulation. This consultation process is scheduled to commence in late February and it is intended that it will culminate in publication of a national policy statement.
Second, the high level group is overseeing the development of a system of regulatory impact analysis. As Deputies may know, this is a systematic, rigorous assessment of proposed regulations before they are enacted. The group is examining the range of models of regulatory impact analysis used by other countries with a view to identifying the type of system that will best suit our particular policy making processes and structures. It is intended to bring forward proposals later in the year following further consultation with Departments.
Apart from these two major areas of work, the high level group is also monitoring the progress of regulatory reform measures and reviews in particular sectors and policy areas.
The terms of reference and composition of the high level group were notified to the House in the course of my reply on 22 May 2001 and are being circulated again for ease of reference. As can be seen from the terms of reference, the group has been asked to submit a final report to the Government within one year. I have, of course, received progress updates on a regular basis and met the group last October. The secretariat for the group is provided by staff in the public service modernisation division of my Department. Some minor non-pay costs are associated with the group's work, mainly relating to publishing documents, hosting a seminar and obtaining external expert advice.
The quality customer service working group was first established in 1997 on foot of a recommendation in Delivering Better Government. Its aim was to develop proposals to improve customer service in the Civil Service. Arising from these proposals, Departments and Offices prepared customer action plans, covering the years 1997-99, based on nine principles of quality customer service, QCS.
In 1999, a new working group was established, chaired by Dermot Quigley, chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, to chart the next phase of QCS. This group revised the original principles, adding three new ones: equality-diversity, official languages equality and the internal customer. New customer action plans, to cover the years 2001-04, have now been produced by most Departments or Offices. My Department has commissioned a desktop evaluation of these plans which will be finalised shortly.
As well as developing policy, the working group has provided practical support for Departments in their efforts to improve customer service. For example, the group published a practical guide on how to produce customer action plans. A network for QCS officers has also been established to help Departments deal with implementation issues. This network allows officers to share good practice and learn from each other. It has organised presentations, seminars and a training day to support this process. The working group has also published a support pack on the equality-diversity aspect of QCS and, through its benchmarking sub-group, has examined quality accreditation schemes and how they could be introduced to the civil and public service.
As Deputies may be aware, a comprehensive evaluation of the SMI modernisation programme is being conducted by PA Consulting. I expect that the results of this evaluation, due shortly, will provide a useful analysis of progress to date on the modernisation programme and make recommendations on the priorities for the next phase of the programme, including in the areas of regulatory reform and quality customer service.