Headlines: September 11th, 2008

Innovative local authorities are to work with some of the country’s biggest businesses in a new type of regulatory partnership which will aim to ensure that key trading laws are applied consistently. The test phase of the Primary Authority scheme, managed by the Local Better Regulation Office, will run from next month until March 2009 and will then be available across all councils from next April.

Major retailers B&Q, Boots, John Lewis, Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose will test the new partnerships with council regulators in Bracknell Forest, the City of London, Dundee, Eastleigh, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Wakefield, West Yorkshire and Westminster. Government estimates say the scheme could eventually save businesses up to 48 million pounds a year.

Business Minister Shriti Vadera, said the scheme would be a big step forward that would also save time and money for local authorities. “It will provide clear and consistent support for businesses, better protection for consumers, and a strong framework for local authorities to improve inspection and enforcement,” she said.

Under the Primary Authority scheme companies that trade across council boundaries can ask to register with one local authority as its source of specialist compliance advice. Currently they run the risk of prosecution even when following official advice in cases where local inspectors disagree on the interpretation of regulations.

The scheme has the backing of the British Retail Consortium whose Assistant Director for Consumer Affairs, Graham Wynn, said, “The test phase should help to ensure that the system can be fine tuned and be ready to be rolled out nationwide next April. It is essential LBRO scores an early win on getting the right structure and is consistent with previously given advice. LBRO will help resolve any differences of opinion.”