New Report Reveals Environmental Health Perspectives on Primary Authority

27 November 2019, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has published a new report evaluating practitioner perspectives on Primary Authority, a statutory scheme that provides businesses with tailored and assured advice on regulation.

Prior to the introduction of Primary Authority in 2009, businesses operating across multiple local authorities faced uncoordinated and inconsistent advice on regulation and compliance.

Primary Authority enables a business, or a group of businesses, to form a legal partnership with one local authority, which then provides tailored and assured advice to help them comply with regulations. Other local regulators must respect this advice when carrying out interventions and consult them when proposing formal enforcement action.

Primary Authority has expanded over the last decade to include almost 100,000 businesses, with Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) playing a central role in managing partnerships and enforcing regulations at a local level.

Using insights and comments collected from the environmental health community, the report analyses Primary Authority from a public protection perspective and makes a series of practical recommendations to the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPPS), local authorities and businesses.

While EHPs praise many aspects of Primary Authority, particularly its success in providing greater consistency for businesses operating across multiple local authorities, the report identities several areas of concern around; documentation and information sharing, funding and resources, online support, enforcement and expansion.

More needs to be done to ensure advice and documentation are quality assured against robust standards, ensuring that partnerships are truly effective and helping other local authorities to carry out their enforcement functions.

The online register requires vital improvements as the current system is felt to hinder efficient regulation when it should be a key tool for partnership working and information sharing between regulators.

Primary Authority has undergone significant changes over the past ten years and a move to allow all businesses to from partnerships from 2017 has prompted doubts about whether businesses operating in one local authority area are really benefiting from what Primary Authority has to offer.

Responsibility for the smooth running of the scheme crucially relies on co-operation between several different actors, which is reflected in the report’s recommendations for businesses and local authorities to commit to working collaboratively and to share data, documentation and information.

Key Recommendations for OPSS

  • Make public and worker protection an explicit priority for Primary Authority
  • Provide a single point of contact for complaints about partnerships and a commitment to investigate them
  • Publish guidance to ensure arrangements are in place to quality assure advice
  • Conduct regular audits of primary authorities
  • Provide accessible training on Primary Authority enforcement procedures
  • Work with local authority practitioners to address their concerns about enforcement
  • Evaluate the success of the post-2017 changes to the scheme.

Anne Godfrey, Chief Executive of CIEH said:

“In the eyes of many Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs), Primary Authority has undoubtedly been successful in making advice on regulation and compliance more consistent. Primary Authority is here to stay but we have heard some legitimate concerns from the environmental health community which must be addressed.

I hope this report marks the beginning of a more open and positive dialogue between OPSS, local authorities and businesses, whose collaboration is key to the effective running of the scheme. We want to see everyone commit to improving Primary Authority and working together towards our shared and ultimate objective of protecting public safety”

 

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