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Retail giants and councils pioneer new regulatory partnerships
Some of Britain's biggest businesses and most innovative councils are to pioneer a new type of regulatory partnership designed to ensure that key trading laws are applied consistently across the UK.
Retail giants B&Q, Boots, John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose are gearing up to test the new Primary Authority partnerships with council regulators in Bracknell Forest, City of London, Dundee, Eastleigh, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Highland, Nottinghamshire, Wakefield, West Yorkshire and Westminster.
The statutory Primary Authority scheme run by the Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO) will be available to all businesses that operate across many local authorities from April 2009, with the test phase running from October 2008 to March 2009.
Government estimates suggest the scheme could eventually save business up to £48 million a year.
Shriti Vadera, Minister for Business, said:
"The Primary Authority scheme is a big step forward that will save time and money for businesses and local authorities across the country.
"It will provide clear and consistent support for businesses, better protection for consumers, and a strong framework for local authorities to improve inspection and enforcement."
Graham Wynn, Assistant Director for Consumer Affairs at the British Retail Consortium, said:
"The BRC has strongly supported the development of an effective system of Primary Authorities. This will require a practical and flexible approach. The test phase should help to ensure that the system can be fine tuned and be ready to be rolled out nationwide next April. It is essential LBRO scores an early win on getting the right structure in place."
Clive Grace, the LBRO Chair, said:
"The local regulation of business is critical to Britain's prosperity and to the protection of consumers, workers, and the environment. The Primary Authority scheme will be a major improvement in the local regulation of business. It puts current voluntary arrangements, which businesses find useful but too limited, onto a statutory footing.
"Inconsistent advice from different councils can damage prosperity, cause frustration and add to business costs. The new scheme will help ensure consistency, and improve companies' confidence about getting robust and reliable advice from council regulators. Their new partnerships with councils are a key part of Better Local Regulation, improving compliance and reducing red tape.
"The Primary Authority scheme will benefit not only the giant retailers but any business trading across council boundaries or on the web. It will also stimulate changes in culture and approach among council regulators, as they become more attuned to the impact of their work on the way their local businesses and economies operate, and the kind of help business needs to be able to get on with the job of creating prosperity."
Currently businesses can run the risk of prosecution even if they follow official advice if local inspectors disagree about how to interpret regulations. A lack of consistency in local regulation can also result in discrepancies in protection for consumers, workers and the environment.
Under the Primary Authority scheme any business that trades across council boundaries can ask to register one local authority as its source of specialist advice about compliance with trading standards and environmental health regulations.
The partnerships will mean better co-ordination of local inspection and enforcement activity. Before local regulators start proceedings against a participating company, they will need to agree with its Primary Authority a course of enforcement action that is consistent with previously given advice. LBRO will help resolve any differences of opinion.
In the run up to April 2009, LBRO will be working with key businesses and councils to develop the draft agreements and inspection plans, and test the referral of enforcement queries.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Primary Authority scheme was designed by the Better Regulation Executive in the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, and approved by Parliament as part of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. BERR will publish consultation on the secondary legislation that will spell out the detailed legal framework for the scheme.
2. Primary Authority partnerships will be available to any business that trades across council boundaries, regardless of size. Small businesses that sell from websites, for example, will have the same access to consistent advice about trading standards and health and safety rules as big manufacturing or construction companies. The scheme will improve compliance to the benefit of business, consumers and communities.
3. The original concept of a Primary Authority type scheme emerged out of the Hampton report in 2005. The report acknowledged that two existing voluntary schemes Lead Authority (set up by HSE to cover health and safety advice to business) and Home Authority (similar but covers food and trading standards advice, and run by LACORS) had the potential to offer significant benefits to business, but were undermined by some fundamental weaknesses:
* not all eligible businesses could find a local authority partner
* enforcing authorities were not compelled to consult the leading authority and some failed to do so
* there was no comprehensive mechanism to resolve disputes
* insufficient resources for the local authority performing the leading role inhibited the service they could provide
4. The next six months leading up to the introduction of Primary Authority involve several opportunities for businesses and regulators to shape the final form of the scheme. The Better Regulation Executive is running a consultation on the secondary legislation that will provide the detailed legal framework for the scheme from October to December 2008. In parallel, LBRO will be consulting widely on its guidance, including:
* working with those businesses and companies that have agreed to take part in the test in October and November 2008, helping them set up the outline agreements and form inspection plans as well as testing out the draft operational guidance
* running an 'as live' test of the scheme from January to March 2009 to test how the operational guidance for regulators works in practice.
5. Director of Performance and Delivery Sarah Smith and Board member David Thurston have led the development of the Primary Authority scheme for LBRO, heading a team of experts working with key national businesses and local authorities, and their representative bodies.
6. The Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO) works with council environmental health, trading standards, licensing and fire safety departments to reduce burdens on law-abiding businesses and ensure that consumers, workers and the environment consistently benefit from the protections laid down in law. Under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act, it will become a non-departmental public body with statutory powers in October 2008. Please visit http://www.lbro.org.uk for more information.