13th August 2020

In partnership against the pandemic

During a time of crisis, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has been playing a central role in supporting local authorities and businesses, being an important voice in government and a source of information.

By Graham Russell
CEO, Office for Product Safety and Standards
Local authority trading standards officers, with their wide and varied remit, are key partners for OPSS
Primary Authority has proved a powerful support for businesses coping with the challenges of keeping staff and customers safe during the pandemic

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, using its unique position at the heart of the UK’s regulatory system, OPSS has worked with CTSI and partners across a diverse range of activities to protect people and support business. It has been the link between local authorities, businesses, professional bodies and other departments of government.

OPSS and CTSI have a strong record of working in partnership to provide practical training. During the height of the pandemic, we worked with CTSI to provide webinar training for trading standards officers across Great Britain and environmental health in Northern Ireland on personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand cleansing products. Initially this was planned for 60 delegates over three sessions but due to unprecedented demand was delivered to over 400 officers across the UK.

In addition to our product safety priorities, OPSS has played an active role coordinating business closures and reopening, maintaining a steady stream of communications with local authority officers, which has been widely appreciated.

Powerful partners

Local authority trading standards officers, with their wide and varied remit, are key partners for OPSS: their work on product safety, legal metrology, Primary Authority and, as part of the COVID-19 response, business closures, has been essential.

OPSS in collaboration with CTSI has been providing a point of contact for local authorities seeking government guidance on business closures, helping them raise issues. The work was delivered by teams that have local authority experience and therefore understand the issues and provide a voice for local regulators to be heard in government.

Intelligence from the frontline has informed government policy changes in many sectors such as garden centres, click-and-collect, nightclubs, beauty salons and entertainment venues.

Our teams have ensured enquiries go to the right department for them to respond and, where possible, provided information.

Primary Authority, which is administered by OPSS, has proved a powerful support for businesses coping with the challenges of keeping staff and customers safe during the pandemic. The OPSS Local Delivery Team organised eight Primary Authority expert panels to assist various sectors meet the challenges of changes to legislation, including businesses and their Primary Authority partners in trading standards and environmental health.

Success stories

There are many examples of Primary Authority partnerships making a real difference to businesses being able to trade safely.

Woking Borough Council and Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards worked with the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) to produce advice and guidance on measures its 4,000 members needed to adapt practices for click-and-collect, delivery charges, social distancing, cleaning, waste storage, alternative payment methods, managing data, transporting chilled foods and price increases.

Advice has also been provided on options and alternatives for enforcement action. This has provided useful, good practice advice to thousands of retailers nationally.

Buckinghamshire and Surrey TS provided advice on contracts during COVID-19. The British Blind & Shutters Association and Trustmark sought advice for their members on how contracts for goods and services should be adapted due to COVID-19.

Topics included delays, cancellation rights and dealing with home visits when consumers are self-isolating. A common question was “what happens if a consumer can no longer afford the goods/service due to COVID-19?”. Key to much of the advice that has been provided has been the importance of maintaining effective communication.

Focus on PPE

Since March many OPSS teams have been focusing on product safety, supporting the Government’s priority to ensure the supply of safe PPE and other products that are critical to the coronavirus response.

This work includes putting in place two regulatory easement routes to streamline administrative processes and to speed up supply of PPE to the NHS and other essential workers, and producing and continually updating guidance to assist both businesses and trading standards.

Our business engagement includes setting up an online forum for community groups to aid discussion and to identify what additional support could be provided; and our Intel, Ports and Enforcement teams have been working closely with trading standards to ensure that that non-compliant products are identified and either brought to compliance or removed from the market.

This has been an incredibly busy time for local authority regulators, and we thank them for their hard work and versatility during these difficult times. I am proud of all that we have achieved in partnership over the last few months, and I hope that together we will continue the fight against coronavirus, supporting business in operating safely and leading Britain’s recovery.

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