01/06/2017 | John Brennan

John Barnes on Permit to Trade

Permit to Trade

01/06/2017 | John Brennan

John Barnes on Permit to Trade

There has been a lot of discussion about the Food Standards Agency (FSA) introducing a new Permit to Trade (PTT) scheme for food businesses. We asked our Strategic Advisor John Barnes for his thoughts on the background to PTT and where things currently stand.

What is a Permit to Trade and why is the FSA considering introducing it?

PTT is being considered as part of the FSA’s Regulating Our Future (RoF) programme to develop a more sustainable and responsive regulatory delivery model. PTT is one of the RoF proposals intended to improve central oversight of UK food businesses and allow for greater opportunities to harness technology. The aim is to deliver a more agile regulatory system better able to respond more quickly and in a more targeted way to changing circumstances and risks. The detail of how the PTT regime would operate has not yet been worked through. However, as the name implies in essence the new arrangements would not permit a food business to open unless appropriate information had been provided to the authorities and the necessary food safety measures and controls were in place.

When will a PTT be needed by food businesses?

Well, not in the immediate future as the PTT proposal is currently on hold. At their most recent meeting the FSA Board agreed to look, in the first instance, at enhancing the current food business Registration arrangements. This decision reflected that PTT would require new legislation and in the run up to Brexit it is unlikely parliamentary time would be found unless there was a very good case for such a radical change. The FSA acknowledged that more evidence was required and they would begin to build the evidence base. In the interim the FSA are going to explore how they could improve the current Registration arrangements which apply to new food businesses.

What is wrong with the current Registration arrangements?

Whilst most food business are legally required to Register with their local authority at least 28 days before opening, Registration is purely a notification process. LAs cannot refuse to Register a business and there is no cost associated.  Registration is to allow the LA to check the business prior to opening and get formalised information on the nature of the operation and ownership. But if a business fails or refuses to Register or wants to open in spite of poor standards, the matter has to be resolved through the courts and in this regard the current Registration arrangements are seen by some LAs as a time-consuming and inefficient way to resolve the problem. Currently, larger food suppliers of animal origin products (eg meat, fish, dairy) not selling directly to consumers, require formal Approval by the LA or FSA before opening. Approvals can be refused and the data is centrally collated and used. Most acknowledge the UK Approval system provides much better central data and oversight especially as business Registration data is held at LA level and dispersed across the many hundreds of UK local authorities.

These will be some of the issues that the FSA are likely to focus on when considering an Enhanced Registration scheme.

Is there a lot of support for PTT?

The FSA thinks so and that their insights from stakeholders show support for a more effective approach to deal with new food businesses – to help businesses get things right from the start, improve consumer protection and better harness technology for a more agile and flexible regulatory model. Clearly, at this stage no real detail for either PTT or Enhanced Registration has been provided, and this is where the devil will be. Certainly if PTT is taken forward Ministers would want robust assurance it would not result in unnecessary burdens or complications to innovation, business start-up and growth.  Additionally, given how critical PTT will be to a new business, many practical issues will need to be clarified and addressed as part of any future consultation process eg. consistency of decision making; prompt handling of PTT decisions; appeals arrangements; and what standard will be required for new businesses – bearing in mind overall fairness and that many businesses trade currently with hygiene ratings below the FHRS 5 full compliance level.

What should new businesses do now?

Currently there are no changes to the existing Registration requirements for new businesses. So, for new businesses the key things are to ensure the food premises are compliant with UK food law and that it has been registered with the relevant local authority at least 28 days before it is due to open. Registration can be done by liaison directly with the local authority or online at GOV.UK. The FSA website also has a range of free guidance to help start up food businesses which provides clear information on the important things to have in place before serving food to the public.

Registering is just one of the many things to consider when opening a new food serving business, luckily Shield Safety are on hand to support you with advice, food safety management systems, compliance diaries, training, award-winning software and more. Contact sales today on 0203 740 3744 or email sales@shieldsafety.co.uk to ensure you start out in the right way.

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official Food Safety, Fire Safety and Health & Safety advice. Shield Safety take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shield Safety services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email hello@shieldsafety.co.uk.