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Primary authority scheme expanded

Corin Williams31/05/2012 - 13:14

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BRDO chief executive Graham Russell
BRDO chief executive Graham Russell

Councils will need to charge for inspections to cope with ‘hundreds of thousands’ of businesses expected to join the primary authority scheme under new legislation, according to the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO).

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill includes measures to greatly expand the primary authority scheme. The proposals would allow groups of businesses, for instance through membership of a trade body, to partner with a primary authority.

Franchise outlets will also be eligible.

The Bill would require councils to carry out inspections according to a plan set out by the primary authority. Enforcing authorities would also be required to report back.

Speaking to EHN, BRDO deputy director Duncan Johnson said the ‘only realistic way’ to provide the extra resources primary authorities would need to cope with the expansion was through cost recovery.

Mr Johnson also said fears that EHOs would be subject to a conflict of interest as a result were unfounded.

He said: ‘If 10,000 businesses pay an extra £10 on their annual trade association membership, that could effectively provide £100,000 in extra resources.

‘Paying regulators for carrying out inspections is nothing new, as with licensing. And of course there are a number of checks and balances, but what we rely on first and foremost is the professional ethics of the officers involved.

‘There are safeguards in there. If someone felt that a primary authority was giving unduly generous advice to a group of businesses, then they can challenge that advice.’

But some EHOs have previously criticised primary authorities for dragging their feet when dealing with queries.

In September last year former CIEH principal policy officer Andrew Griffiths said: ‘We are aware of cases where enforcing authorities have had to chase responses from primary authorities. The primary authority principle is sound, but slow responses can devalue it.’

Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ve already got the duty for primary authorities to respond to a notification of an enforcement action within five working days, that’s already enshrined in the law.

‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are times when people have put a phone call into a primary authority and not got what they would have wanted, but we’re doing a great deal with primary authorities to make sure understand their obligations.’

The BRDO said the primary authority scheme was a more efficient way of regulating and that businesses were ‘pressing’ councils to take part in the scheme.

Chief executive Graham Russell said around a third of businesses currently signed up were small or medium sized enterprises.

He added: ‘The changes outlined in the Bill will mean that many thousands will be eligible to take part.

‘Primary authority is an increasingly significant weapon in the battle to protect citizens and communities, and help businesses thrive.’

Nearly 500 businesses are currently signed up to the primary authority scheme, covered by 87 local authorities. In all, this oversees the regulation of more than 50,000 premises.

The Bill also contains measures to scrap ‘unnecessary regulations’ as part of the ongoing Red Tape Challenge. Much of the rest of the Bill is concerned with employment regulations.

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