Extending the Primary Authority Scheme: Cutting red tape for business

In this article, we outline the Government’s plan to simplify, extend and streamline the Primary Authority Scheme to provide businesses with consistent, tailored and reliable advice through more constructive relationships with regulators.

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills (‘BIS’) is proposing a number of deregulatory measures to help extend the Government’s target for cutting red tape, requiring regulators to be more transparent in reporting their compliance with existing statutory better-regulation measures, and extending the Primary Authority Scheme to streamline regulation around the country. 

BIS proposes to:

  1. Simplify the Primary Authority Scheme to allow more small businesses to join Primary Authority and access assured advice, for example by extending access to Primary Authority to any business that wishes to form a partnership, enabling more small businesses to benefit from it.  It also proposes to simplify co-ordinated partnerships to make it much easier for businesses to register partnerships through trade associations, franchisors and company groups.
  2. Extend Primary Authority to additional areas of legislation, which will allow other regulatory bodies to participate in the scheme and ensure regulators recognise advice issued in other nations.  This includes the proposal of using the new Enterprise Bill to create a power enabling the Secretary of State in secondary legislation to specify regulators who would be required to act consistently with Primary Authority Advice.  BIS also proposes that there should be specific regulators other than local authorities who are required to act consistently with Primary Authority Advice and that there are specific regulators who can become primary authorities.
  3. Streamline the administrative processes for all parties, such as clarifying which guidance local authorities should use in their cost recovery policies, simplifying the regulatory categories in respect of which a business can have a partnership, and making inspection plans more effective.

The benefits to business of being part of the Primary Authority Scheme

  • The Primary Authority Scheme provides businesses with more consistent, tailored, assured and reliable advice and provides regulators with flexible ways of working. It can give businesses greater confidence to invest and grow, and increase regulator efficiency.  It can also help to offer co-ordinated advice between different regulatory bodies to a business.
  • For large, complex businesses, the benefits of Primary Authority include having a single point of contact, which reduces the time, risk, burden and complexity of dealing with numerous local regulators. The Scheme also provides such businesses with the ability to receive assured advice and form a more constructive relationship with a single local authority, to support their approach to managing compliance.
  • Smaller businesses, for example entrepreneurs, paid consultants, and creative and new technology businesses can have the benefit of receiving robust, good quality, relevant, assured advice that they can rely on. Small businesses often do not have in-house expertise on regulatory issues, and look to and value external sources for advice, such as local regulators to help them meet their obligations.  Small businesses in particular are more likely to grow when they have increased confidence and Primary Authority can help deliver that confidence through a more engaged relationship with a single local authority regulator.

Downsides of the Scheme

According to a recent review by the Better Regulation Delivery Office, a number of disadvantages of the Scheme have been identified, which include the following:

  • Eligibility rules can present barriers to entry and prevent access to Assured Advice for those who are pre-start, such as entrepreneurs, or businesses in single local authority areas. There are areas of overlap between local authority regulators and national regulators, such as there being no mechanism within Primary Authority to enable recognition of the role of other enforcement bodies, and there have been reported examples of other enforcement bodies not having appropriate regard to a primary authority partnership and the advice issued.
  • The requirements of inspection plans are also not always being followed in practice, both in relation to how the inspections are conducted and in the provision of feedback to Primary Authorities.
  • As more devolved regulations emerge, businesses are worried about how devolution could have a detrimental impact on the Scheme and its smooth, efficient operation.
  • The current application process for co-ordinated partnerships can be complex, bureaucratic and create an administrative burden for both businesses and co-ordinators of the partnerships.

Will the Government’s proposals for improving the Scheme be of benefit to businesses?

The proposals suggested would provide benefits in a number of ways:

  1. They could provide opportunities for a business to enter into a partnership with its local authority to provide tailored advice to support compliance processes and systems used by businesses. The increase in partnerships could also help to increase productivity and improve safety records.
  2. For pre-start businesses, a partnership could provide specialist advice on ‘building in compliance’ from the start of operations to minimise the cost of compliance.  For example BIS gives the example of businesses operating in adventure sports, where advice would be provided on specialist health and safety aspects of climbing walls, high wire rope walks etc. Existing businesses would also be able to draw on such specialised pools of advice.
  3. Established businesses joining the scheme could gain access to Assured Advice, thereby giving them the confidence to invest in regulatory solutions without fear of being held to a different standard in another locality.
  4. Improved protection of businesses, especially when other enforcing authorities fail to notify the Primary Authority of intended enforcement action.
  5. Increased consistency of enforcement action, such as by way of formalising the relationship between the devolved nations and the UK Government and its impact on Primary Authority.
  6. Greater flexibility to enable action by removing unnecessary time limits relating to the notification of enforcement action.  (However, as a result of removing such time limits, enforcement action may come about much more quickly than previously anticipated by businesses.)
  7. Simplifying the application processes and not requiring each individual business to hold a separate partnership would mean that the onus would be on the co-ordinator of partnerships, not on each business, to maintain accurate details of who is entitled to rely on any assured advice issued by its Primary Authority and to respond in a timely manner to requests from enforcing authorities about members of the co-ordinated partnership.
  8. Reduce the detrimental impact of divergent regulatory regimes on business by enabling mutual recognition of Primary Authority Advice.

For further advice on the Scheme and how it may affect your business, please contact DWF’s Regulatory team.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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