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Inconsistent enforcement – the Primary Authority solution

On 03/10/13 by Jim Cathcart (Policy Manager - Pub Operations)

Bad enforcement by police, the licensing authority, fire officers and EHOs can be the bane of a pub operator’s life. Whether this is turning up to check paperwork at 9pm on a Saturday night, or over-zealous officers making licensees jump through multiple hoops with no evidence that there is even a problem at the premises, makes an already challenging job that little bit more difficult. However, now there is a solution to problems such as these that is worth considering in order to bring more consistency and fairness to those on the receiving end of such action.

Of course, there are really good examples out there of local authorities and enforcement agencies seeing their role as helping legitimate businesses prosper by treating them fairly, and targeting inspections on those who are deliberately flouting the law and putting customers and the public at risk. The challenge has always been the inconsistency in approach between these areas of the country, and areas where officers have an ‘us and them’ attitude towards the trade. In the last couple of years a solution has presented itself in the form of Primary Authority relationships – spearheaded by the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), part of the Government’s business department.

Primary Authority itself is a simple policy – in essence a business (for example, a managed pub operator with a range of sites across the country) chooses a local authority where it has a good relationship with regulators, say Borsetshire Council. This company has had a problem at some of its sites with over-zealous enforcement of health and safety, so it signs a Primary Authority agreement with Borsetshire and agrees standard risk assessments and inspection plans for its estate. Once this is in place, the next time a local authority anywhere in the country insists one of the company’s pubs must go above and beyond what is reasonably set out in its operating practices, the Primary Authority relationship kicks in and the company does not have to comply with these requirements as it has a pre-agreed system in place with Borsetshire that supersedes the local officials. This company is in effect guaranteed consistent enforcement and inspection practice relating to health and safety across its entire estate, regardless of where the individual pubs are located.

Primary Authority does not apply to all areas of law at present - such as licensing - and there is a cost attached. However, it is constantly developing as trade associations and franchises (which include tenanted pubs) are now in scope. BBPA is working with BRDO to explore the expansion of the scheme.

Primary Authority offers businesses a way to ensure consistent and fair enforcement across the country, and will hopefully develop further. For more information on Primary Authority agreements, which a number of BBPA members have taken forward, visit the BRDO website here.


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