The Board received a report which detailed the progress made by Worcestershire Regulatory Services on Primary Authority Partnerships.
The Business and Relationships Manager, Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) introduced the report and informed the Board that one of the key strategies for WRS was income generation. By working more collaboratively with businesses to support growth and provide assured advice across a number of regulatory functions instilled confidence and maintained essential public protections.
Primary Authority was a statutory scheme established by the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 (the RES Act). It enabled eligible businesses to form a legally recognised partnership with a single authority in relation to regulatory compliance. The local authority was then known as its ‘Primary Authority’. The scheme made it easier for business’s to comply with regulation and to operate in the United Kingdom.
There were two types of partnership, ‘direct’ and ‘co-ordinated’. The term ‘direct partnership’ was used where the business accessed the scheme by virtue of being regulated by more than one local authority or traded across different authority boundaries. The term ‘co-ordinated partnership’ was used where the business accessed the scheme by virtue of the fact that it shared an approach to compliance with other businesses, for example a trade association that provided regulatory guidance to its members.
The scheme had proved very successful and was continuing to grow. According to the Primary Authority Register there were now 15818 businesses in the 16920 partnerships; of which 2163 were in ‘direct partnerships’ and 14757 were in ‘co-ordinated partnerships’ with 181 different local authorities.
Primary Authority was available to businesses for support in all areas of Trading Standards, Environmental Health and Licensing delivered by local government, as detailed at Appendix 1 to the report.
WRS had seven ‘direct’ primary authority partnerships and one ‘co-ordinated’ partnership, five of which were Worcestershire based. The scheme was increasing each year. The current Primary Authority Partnerships were detailed on page 60 in the report.
The Business and Relationships Manager, WRS, further informed Members that income generation from the scheme was to be on a cost recovery basis. The current model operated used highly skilled experts in the field and WRS were aware that the preliminary stages of any Primary Partnership required a surge of resources. Therefore each new partnership was looked at on a case by case basis, in order to sustain the commitment to current business’s already in the WRS Primary Authority portfolio. The risk of taking on too many businesses could require additional resources.
The Chairman commented that this appeared to be a growing area, which also acted as a safety net for businesses by providing consistent advice.
In response to questions from Members, the Head of Regulatory Services, WRS, explained that advice was given to businesses by each primary authority was assured advice and could be relied upon by the business. Where a disagreement on interpretation occurs between local enforcement authorities and the Primary Authority, discussions would take place to resolve the issue. Where resolution was not achieved informally, a mechanism was available through a branch of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to adjudicate and determine which interpretation was correct. In the meantime, the business could continue to trade with confidence. If the advice was deemed correct the enforcement authority would be prevented from taking the matter further. If it was found that incorrect advice had been provided the enforcement authority could proceed. Equally, if a business had failed to seek Primary Authority advice on something and its actions constituted an offence, the business could not try to use the Primary Authority mechanism to defend itself. So there are checks and balances in the system to ensure businesses were supported and consumers remained protected.
Members thanked the Business and Relationships Manager, WRS, for her report. It gave them confidence that the scheme was being built steadily and achieving an income stream for WRS. Members were reassured by the fact that each partnership was looked at on a case by case basis, thus reducing any potential risk by growing the scheme too rapidly.
In response the Head of Regulatory Services, WRS, further commented that, from its work with smaller businesses, WRS understood that periods of significant growth were critical times for business and increased the risk of things going wrong, so it was crucial to allow the business to grow at the right rate in order for the business to be sustainable.
With regard to the fact that the scheme was to be on a cost recovery basis, officers would continue to grow the scheme, but a review of the scheme would be carried out after the first six months, in order to ensure that the full cost recovery model was delivering what was required. Any income generated would be invested back into the service. The Head of Regulatory Services, WRS, agreed to report back to the Board the findings of the six month review of the scheme.
a) that the findings of the six month review of the scheme be brought back to a future meeting of the Worcestershire Regulatory Services Board, and
b) that the Primary Authority report, be noted.