The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has announced that the Primary Authority Scheme will be extended to cover fire safety in England and Wales with effect from 6th April 2014.
The Primary Authority Scheme allows businesses that operate in more than one Local Authority area to enter into a partnership and thereafter deal with a single lead Local Authority. This Local Authority is then known as the Primary Authority (PA). To date such a partnership has only been applicable to health and safety, environmental health, trading standards legislation and some specific functions such as food safety and petroleum licensing.
The scheme is intended to ensure that local regulation by different authorities, interacting with a business, is consistent in terms of advice, the co-ordination of inspections and enforcement. It tries to address the past criticism of regulators that they were reluctant to commit themselves to approving a policy or procedure but quick to enforce a breach.
How does it work?
Once a business has a partnership with a Primary Authority then they can seek 'assured advice' which is intended to be bespoke and robust compliance advice. Once given, all other Local Authorities must respect the compliance advice given by the PA to the business. A Local Authority, other than the Primary Authority, which then wishes to take enforcement action, would need to obtain the approval of the PA before such action can be taken, which, in effect, gives the PA the ability to block it.
Whilst the scheme has been in operation since April 2009 it has only been recently strengthened and extended. In October of 2013 it was extended to cover the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Now it has been widened further by extending the types of businesses that can use a PA. Whilst in the past a business had to be regulated by at least two local authorities, now sharing a common approach to compliance with similar businesses in other areas is sufficient. This opens participation to businesses in trade associations or franchisees.
Additionally the extension of the scheme to the Fire and Rescue Service will help to address concerns raised by many businesses, having multiple sites across the country, that they have received conflicting advice regarding fire safety compliance.
It is our experience that the Primary Authority Scheme, particularly where the Authority has delivered "assured advice", provides businesses with certainty and confidence to invest in compliance practices and procedures.