Extension of 'primary authority' scheme and new statutory code for regulators "good news" for UK businesses, says expert

Out-Law News | 15 Apr 2014 | 3:32 pm | 2 min. read

A number of simplifications to the way in which businesses' regulated activities are overseen by regulatory bodies and local authorities will make it easier for firms to know what is expected of them, an expert has said.

A new statutory Regulators' Code, replacing the existing Regulators' Compliance Code, came into force on 6 April while the Primary Authority Scheme, which allows businesses operating within more than one local authority to form a statutory partnership with just one, has been extended to cover fire safety and underage sales of alcohol. Regulatory law expert Pauline Munro of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the developments were intended to enable "consistent and transparent enforcement" and promote business growth.

"By virtue of the Code, regulators are tasked with ensuring their policies are designed to suit business needs and ensuring that there is a clear and constructive process for challenging decisions," she said. "Businesses should know and expect the standards in the Code to be met."

"The extension of the Primary Authority scheme enables multiple site operations to achieve streamlined fire safety and underage alcohol sales advice from a single authority. There are considerable benefits to be achieved via the Primary Authority scheme in relation to two areas of regulation which frequently hit the headlines as a consequence of the penalties which are imposed for failing to meet legal obligations," she said.

The changes are among a number of simplifications to employment, planning and environmental regulations that came into force on 6 April. Most come in response to issues raised by businesses through regulatory reform exercises such as the government's ongoing 'Red Tape Challenge', which invites firms to give their views on which overly burdensome regulations should be removed or improved.

The new Regulators' Code was published in July 2013, and sets out the six principles which should govern how regulators engage with the firms that they regulate. It applies to nearly all the non-economic regulators, including local authorities and fire and rescue authorities; and includes the functions of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Environment Agency, Food Standards Agency and Monitor.

The Code introduces a new 'growth duty' for regulators, requiring them to carry out their activities "in a way that supports those they regulate to comply and grow" and to avoid unnecessary regulatory burdens. Regulators will also be expected to base their activities on risk, to ensure that clear guidance and advice is available to help those that they regulate to comply and to conduct their regulatory activities in a transparent way.

The extension of the Primary Authority scheme to cover fire safety and age-related sales of alcohol will ensure a more consistent approach to regulation in these areas for affected businesses with sites in multiple local authorities. The scheme allows businesses to enter into a partnership with, and subsequently deal with, a single lead local authority which will then coordinate any inspection and enforcement activities. There are now around 1,500 businesses that have entered into Primary Authority agreements, covering areas of regulation such as trading standards and environmental health.

Among the businesses that have already entered into fire safety Primary Authority agreements are B&Q, Nuffield Health, Majestic Wine, RBS and the Home Retail Group, which have all partnered with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is now the Primary Authority for Tesco, and for the owners of retailer TK Maxx, according to the government's announcement.