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Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety

Volume 635: debated on Monday 22 January 2018

Yesterday the Government published their response to the report of the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, and announced the establishment of a new Office for Product Safety and Standards.

Setting up the Office for Product Safety and Standards represents a significant upgrade in the Government’s approach to product safety in the UK and will, for the first time, give us dedicated expertise to lead on national product safety challenges. It demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that UK consumers receive the highest possible levels of protection from unsafe goods, and that UK businesses are protected from the unfair competition posed by substandard and unsafe products (including imports) and can have confidence in meeting their responsibilities to supply safe goods.

The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety was set up in October 2016 to provide advice to Ministers on tangible improvements that could be made in the safety of white goods and the recalls system. The Working Group is chaired by Neil Gibbins, former Deputy Chief Fire Officer for Devon and Somerset and former Chief Executive of the Institution of Fire Engineers; and brings together product safety experts, the fire service and trading standards professionals.

The group published its recommendations in July 2017. The Government accept the recommendations in full and are now taking action to address them.

The recommendations, and the headlines of the Government’s response to each, are as follows:

There is a need for centralised technical and scientific resource capability to support decision making and co-ordination of activity of Local Authorities and the businesses that they regulate. The Government fully accept this recommendation and today we are establishing the Office for Product Safety and Standards to deliver this capability.

A detailed Code of Practice should be developed with input from all relevant stakeholders; this should be informed by behavioural insights research. This should set out expected good practice with regard to product safety corrective actions (including recalls). The Government fully accept this recommendation and commissioned the British Standards Institution who published a draft code in November. The draft code was widely welcomed and finalised text is expected to be published by March this year.

Full consideration should be given to establishing central capacity to co-ordinate product safety corrective actions at a central level. The Government fully support this recommendation and the Office for Product Safety and Standards will be responsible for providing incident management capability and for maintaining a comprehensive database of corrective actions and recall programmes for consumer goods.

Systematic and sustainable ways to capture and share data and intelligence should be established and agreed by relevant parties—this should make use of existing systems used by Trading Standards and the Fire Service. The Government fully accept this recommendation and the Office for Product Safety and Standards will establish an intelligence capability that brings together the widest possible range of information and evidence to inform the understanding of risks at industry and product level. Work has already begun to map available data sources and available expertise.

Manufacturers and retailers should continue to work together and through standards setting bodies to develop technological solutions to product marking and identification. This recommendation was aimed at manufacturers and retailers however the Government would welcome further thinking from the business community on the practicalities and costs of taking this forward. The Government themselves are undertaking research on indelible marking which may prove useful to industry in their considerations.

Primary authority provides a key mechanism for ensuring that businesses, local authority and BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) expertise is shared to ensure the protection of consumers. The Government support this recommendation. Primary authority helps businesses to improve their compliance and it supports local regulators in delivering protections for the public. The Office for Product Safety and Standards will work with primary authorities and businesses to provide additional compliance advice based on the latest scientific and technical knowledge.

The registration of appliances and other consumer goods with manufacturers by consumers should be encouraged to make corrective actions (including recalls) more effective. The Government welcome the ‘Register my Appliance’ initiative developed by the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances. The Government will continue to work with retailers, fire services and others to see what more can be done to improve the registration of appliances.

An expert panel bringing together trade associations, consumer and enforcement representatives and BEIS should be established. The Government fully accept this recommendation and is looking to build on the foundations of the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety. The Office for Product Safety and Standards will also work closely with the BEIS Chief Scientific Adviser to consider the potential role and make-up of additional scientific and technical committees.

The establishment of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards will deliver on the Working Group’s key recommendation which called for centralised technical and scientific capability to support effective decision making and to help co-ordinate the activity of local authorities and the businesses that they regulate. It also provides the capability needed to address the other recommendations made by the Working Group.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards will enable the UK to meet evolving challenges—responding to expanding international trade, the growth in online retail and the increasing rate of product innovation. It will also help the UK to put in place the most effective system for regulation and enforcement of product safety in preparation for our exit from the European Union.

The Office will:

provide incident management capability to respond to national product safety issues;

improve the information available to consumers on the Government’s product recall website;

provide central scientific and technical expertise on product safety issues;

provide support for local authority Trading Standards teams, and for district councils in Northern Ireland;

support checks at UK borders and the interception of unsafe imports;

provide improved intelligence and risk analysis to guide enforcement activities; and,

work with UK business to ensure they are able to meet their compliance requirements.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards will initially be based in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and will have an operating budget of around £12 million per year when it is fully operational. In the longer term, the Government will examine the options for making the Office an arm’s length independent body and will look at associated funding options. This will be subject to further consideration and public consultation before any decisions are made.

The Government’s response to the Working Group’s report marks the culmination of longer term work on product safety and recalls. An independent review of the recall system was undertaken by Lynn Faulds Wood in 2015, with her review published in February 2016. The Working Group has built on that review and made its own recommendations.

On 16 January 2018, the BEIS Committee published its report “The Safety of Electrical Goods in the UK”. The Government will respond to the Committee in due course.

The Government response to the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety sets out in full how we are addressing each of the Working Group’s recommendations. That response has now been published, and copies of the documents have been placed in the Library of each House.