Building relationships and improving compliance with environmental health, trading standards and fire safety legislation through Primary Authority.
Primary Authority enables local authorities to improve compliance and build better relationships with businesses whilst supporting local economic growth.
Under Primary Authority, a local authority partners with a business or group of businesses to provide them with regulatory advice that other authorities have to respect.
Primary Authority is a statutory scheme underpinned by Statutory Guidance which includes obligations for local authorities. The information in this guide is intended to assist primary authorities looking to set up and run partnerships, and includes references to the Primary Authority Statutory Guidance throughout.
Benefits of Primary Authority
Becoming a primary authority enables your authority to build stronger relationships with businesses and improve compliance, while protecting frontline services through cost recovery. It can help develop your authority’s expertise, and enhance your reputation.
Under Primary Authority, local and national regulators can work together to ensure businesses are treated consistently and fairly.
Direct and co-ordinated partnerships
There are two types of Primary Authority partnership.
- a local authority can form a partnership with a single business – this is called a direct partnership
- a local authority can partner with an organisation such as trade associations or franchises to provide advice to a group of businesses – this is called a co-ordinated partnership and the organisation acts as a co-ordinator, managing the partnership on behalf of the members of the group
Further information is available in sections 3.4 to 3.12 of the statutory guidance.
Areas covered by Primary Authority
Primary Authority partnerships are available to any type of business, whether it is established or just starting out. Primary Authority covers the main regulatory areas:
- environmental health
- trading standards
- fire safety
- petrol storage certification
- explosives licensing
Local authorities can provide Primary Authority services to businesses for all the regulatory areas within their remit that are not already covered by another primary authority.
Further information is available in sections 4.9 to 4.14 of the statutory guidance.
Primary Authority across the UK
The scope of Primary Authority and its practical operation differ in each nation of the UK, depending on whether particular regulations relate to matters that are ‘reserved’ or ‘devolved’.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, a primary authority can provide services in relation to all the regulatory areas in scope that it has responsibility for:
- a primary authority in England or Wales can advise on reserved regulatory areas (including fire safety, health and safety, metrology, product safety)
- a primary authority in England can advise on ‘England only’ regulatory areas (including food, agriculture, animal health, environment, housing and public health)
- a primary authority in Wales can advise on devolved Welsh regulatory areas (including food, agriculture, animal health, environment, housing and public health).
Businesses trading in both England and Wales that are regulated in relation to devolved matters and wish to benefit from Primary Authority in both nations will need to partner with both a primary authority in England and a primary authority in Wales. These primary authorities will be able to work closely together to provide an efficient service.
In Scotland, a primary authority can provide services in relation to reserved regulatory areas that it has responsibility for.
Policy areas devolved to the Scottish government and covered by Scottish legislation (including fire safety, food, agriculture, animal health, environment, housing and public health) are not in scope of Primary Authority.
In Northern Ireland, a primary authority can provide services in relation to reserved matters that it has responsibility for – primarily in relation to product safety.
Policy areas transferred to the Northern Ireland Executive are not in scope of Primary Authority.
Further information is available in section 2 of the statutory guidance.
If your authority is interested in becoming a primary authority, you should read the statutory guidance, which explains in more detail how Primary Authority works.
You should also consider attending one of the Primary Authority training courses run by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPS&S).
Step 1 – Finding partners
You can form primary authority partnerships with any business that trades in the UK.
Many primary authorities find partners through the day-to-day interactions they have with businesses in their area. OPS&S is currently working on materials to help primary authorities market their services.
Step 2 – Initial discussions with a prospective partner
Once you have identified a prospective partner, it’s important that both parties are clear what to expect from the relationship. Make sure that you discuss the following:
- what the business or group of businesses expects to get out of the partnership
- what the objectives are, and how both parties will work together
- which regulatory areas the partnership will cover
- how both sides will communicate with each other and with enforcement authorities
- how regularly you intend to meet with one another and whether these meetings need to be formal or informal
- the regulatory areas in which Primary Authority Advice is likely to be required, and how this will be developed and managed
- whether an inspection plan is required, and how this will be developed and managed
- whether any supporting regulator should be consulted (see below)
- how the partnership will be resourced
- who the main contacts will be for both parties
- whether the business or group of businesses is regulated in any other nation of the UK
- the expected cost of the partnership and how it will be paid for
- Primary Authority terms and conditions
- for co-ordinated partnerships, how the co-ordinator will fulfil its role which is explained in Part F of the statutory guidance
The five specified supporting regulators are the:
- Food Standards Agency
Health and Safety Executive -
- Competition and Markets Authority
- Gambling Commission
- Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in relation to metrology and product safety
Primary authorities can seek their support in relation to the provision of Primary Authority Advice or the development and management of an inspection plan.
A business can be in partnership with more than one primary authority, for example in different nations of the UK. If your partner has an existing partnership, you will need to agree how you will work together with their existing primary authority.
If you are talking to a business seeking a direct partnership, you should ask whether it is covered by any co-ordinated partnerships, for example via a trade association or franchise, and if so which regulatory areas are in scope of the co-ordinated partnership.
This information will form the basis of your summary of partnership arrangements.
Further information is available in sections 10 and 14 of the statutory guidance.
Step 3 – Agree costs and payment terms
Your local authority is entitled to charge, on a cost recovery basis, for primary authority services supplied through a partnership. It can recover all costs reasonably incurred in providing Primary Authority services.
The amount you can charge for your Primary Authority partnership will depend on how much work your partner requires you to do. When you start talking to a business about forming a partnership, discuss what it expects you to do and then work out how much this might cost.
Examples of Primary Authority services for which the partners may agree that costs can be recovered include:
- establishing partnership arrangements
- familiarising primary authority staff with the business
- raising awareness and understanding of the partnership amongst enforcing authorities
- developing, providing and reviewing Primary Authority Advice
- developing, managing and evaluating an inspection plan
- responding to queries and notifications from enforcing authorities
- collating and analysing data and other information
- training staff of the business
- conducting audits or other checks on compliance at the request of the business
Some primary authorities offer services for a fixed fee to cover a number of hours work. Others work on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. You should agree these arrangements with your partner in advance.
Further information is available in sections 18.7 to 18.11 of the statutory guidance.
Primary Authority services are regulatory in nature and can only be provided by local authorities so are therefore outside the scope of VAT. Further information is available in the HMRC internal manual.
Step 4 – The application
- The first step in entering into partnership is to agree a written summary of partnership arrangements with the business or co-ordinator
- If you do not already have one, create an account on the Primary Authority Register. (You will need to use an email address ending .gov.uk)
- Once your account has been created, use the ‘Apply for a new partnership’ feature to start the nomination process. During the process you will need to confirm that you agree to the Primary Authority terms and conditions
Step 5 – Acceptance process
Your submitted application will then be sent to the business to confirm its details before being passed to OPS&S for checking and nomination by the Secretary of State.
If the Secretary of State consents to your nomination, the partnership will be added to the Public Register and both you and you partner will be notified of the nomination. The Secretary of State will share details of all nominations with any relevant national regulator.
Further information is available in sections 11 and 15 of the statutory guidance.
Primary Authority Advice
Primary Authority Advice is any advice and guidance given by the primary authority to a business or to a co-ordinator (for communication to its member businesses).
Providing Primary Authority Advice is an important part of your role as a primary authority, leading and coordinating the regulation of the business.
Primary Authority Advice you issue can help a business understand:
- how the legal requirements apply to them
- how they can achieve compliance
- whether the controls they have in place are acceptable
Primary Authority Advice is assured which means that provided the business follows the advice you have given, it should not be subject to enforcement action. As the primary authority you can block any proposed action against it that conflicts with Advice you have issued.
You should publish either the Primary Authority Advice, or details of the regulatory questions, topics or issues in relation to which you have provided it, in the secure area of the Primary Authority Register, where this information will be available for other regulators to consult.
Templates are available for you to use when creating Primary Authority Advice and other documentation.
Further information is available in sections 6 and 19 of the statutory guidance.
Primary Authority Advice to Local Authorities
You may decide that you need to guide enforcing authorities in how they regulate businesses you partner with. You can do this by issuing Primary Authority Advice to Local Authorities.
All Primary Authority Advice to Local Authorities needs to be submitted to the Secretary of State for consent before it can be published in the secure area of the Register. It must always be published in full.
Templates are available for you to use when creating Primary Authority Advice to Local Authorities and other documentation.
Further information is available in sections 7 and 19 of the statutory guidance.
If you are partnering with a business or group of businesses that undergoes a significant level of routine regulatory checks, it may be beneficial to create an inspection plan. An inspection plan helps you guide enforcing authorities through their inspection process and other checks, such as sampling visits and test purchases.
Enforcing officers should check the Primary Authority Register to see whether an inspection plan exists for a business before they visit it.
If you decide to create an inspection plan for a business, it must be approved by the Secretary of State before it can be published in the secure area of the Register.
Templates are available for you to use when creating inspection plans and other documentation.
Further information is available in section 8 of the statutory guidance.
Day-to-day operation of primary authorities
It is up to the primary authority and the business or the co-ordinator to decide the level of activity of their partnership.
As a primary authority officer your activities would typically include:
- holding regular contact meetings
- keeping up to date with relevant compliance issues
- liaising with supporting regulators where appropriate
- working with your partner to agree the approach to regulatory matters
- creating, updating and revising Primary Authority Advice and inspection plans
- advising enforcement officers
- responding to enquiries, including notifications of proposed enforcement action
- keeping the Primary Authority Register up to date
Using the Primary Authority logo
Businesses, trade associations, franchises, business groups and local authorities involved in one or more direct and / or coordinated Primary Authority partnerships are free to make use of the Primary Authority logo, if they follow four simple rules:
- It must not feature in marketing or promotional literature to imply endorsement of a specific product or service
- It must feature only in material providing factual information, such as corporate or council websites, annual reports, newsletters, case studies, business cards and signs
- It must only be reproduced on a white background with a minimum width of 60mm and an exclusion zone of at least 10mm
- It must not be distorted in any way, for example by separating its elements, changing its colour or adjusting its typeface
(The green used in the Primary Authority logo is Pantone 349 / C100M0Y83K47 / R0G102B51.)
The Primary Authority Register
The Primary Authority Register is used to:
- record which businesses and co-ordinators have a Primary Authority partnership
- provide enforcement officers with useful information about them
- enable enforcement officers and primary authority officers to communicate
- provide an audit trail for statutory messaging such as enforcement notifications
Primary authorities should use the Register to:
- make key documentation such as Primary Authority Advice and inspection plans available to enforcement officers
- keep information about businesses and co-ordinators up to date
- manage statutory messaging that requires an audit trail
Further information is available throughout the statutory guidance.
Membership of co-ordinated groups
The Register enables enforcement officers to find out if a business is covered by a co-ordinated partnership. This allows them to carry out their duties effectively and allows the primary authority to provide the business with the benefits of the partnership.
If you have a co-ordinated partner, one of the following needs to be published on the secure area of the Register:
- an up to date list of members
- a link to where this list is published, such as the co-ordinator’s own website
- information on where an enforcing officer can get the list, such as an email address for the co-ordinator who can supply it
Further information on co-ordinator’s responsibilities for sharing membership lists is available in section 26.13 of the statutory guidance.
Enforcement notification process
Primary Authority is an effective way to help businesses comply with regulations. Primary authorities generally report low levels of enforcement action against the businesses they partner with.
In the event that an enforcement officer decides to take action against a business that is in a direct partnership with you, or covered by a co-ordinated partnership with you, he or she is required to notify you via the Primary Authority Register.
As a primary authority you can direct against (block) an enforcement action being taken against the business when you have issued relevant Primary Authority Advice and the business was following it.
In order to block enforcement action you must respond to the enforcement notification within 5 working days.
When receiving an enforcement notification it is important to consider whether the business may have implemented Primary Authority Advice issued by another primary authority, for example, as part of a co-ordinated partnership. If so, you will need to forward the enforcement notification to the relevant primary authority.
Further information is available in section 21 of the statutory guidance.
Reviewing a partnership
You and your partner may find it helpful to review the work and direction of your partnership at regular intervals. A review will also provide an opportunity to check that all documentation such as Primary Authority Advice is up to date and still relevant.
Should the company name, company number, or the name or nature of their legal entity change, you should inform the Secretary of State via the Primary Authority Register. If you fail to do so, the partnership may no longer be valid.
Further information is available in section 18 of the statutory guidance.
Ending a partnership
Either you or your partner can end the partnership at any point, subject to any notice period agreed between the partners. Ending a partnership is formally known as ‘revoking’ a partnership. All revocation requests will need approval from the Secretary of State.
If the request to end the partnership is approved, the partnership will be removed from the Public Register. In some rare circumstances the Secretary of State may consider that either you or your partner is unsuitable to continue serving your role. In these circumstances the Secretary of State can revoke the partnership without the consent of either partner.
Further information is available in sections 5, 11 and 16 of the statutory guidance.
Tools and templates are available to participating authorities.
- Primary Authority Advice templates
- inspection plan templates
- summary of partnership arrangements templates
OPS&S runs a number of working groups that input into the future direction of Primary Authority and act as a useful professional network for users.
A helpdesk is available to support users and answer queries from those interested in Primary Authority. You can reach the helpdesk by calling 0121 345 1201 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.