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Government reponds to working group's recommendations on product recalls and safety

Thursday 25 January 2018

Further to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Report published in July last year, headed up by former Deputy Chief Fire Officer Neil Gibbins, the Government has now issued their full response.

In a surprise move, the Government have responded to the working group (which comprised representatives from trading standards, consumer groups, industry and academia) in the strongest way possible, announcing that they will establish a new Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) dedicated solely to achieving change, demonstrating a commitment to putting product safety high on the agenda.

The Government accepted the working group’s recommendations in full and OPSS will be responsible for implementing many of the agreed changes. The new Office will have an operating budget of around £12 million per year and the Government have implied that, subject to consultation, in the future the Office could become an arms-length independent body. 

Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said:
“The new Office for Product Safety and Standards will strengthen the UK’s already tough product safety regime and will allow consumers to continue to buy, secure in the knowledge there is an effective system in place if products need to be repaired or replaced.

“I thank the working group for their efforts to help improve product safety and I look forward to working with them in this new phase.”

The Government agreed with the working group's findings that there is a need for a centralised technical and scientific resource capacity to support decision making and co-ordination of activity of local authorities and the businesses they regulate. OPPS will work closely with the BEIS Chief Scientific Adviser to consider the potential role and make-up of additional scientific and technical committees.

The new office will also be responsible for providing incident management capability and for maintaining a comprehensive database of corrective actions and recall programmes for consumer goods at a central level.

Keen to show that they are taking immediate practical action, the Government has already commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce a Code of Practice for product safety corrective actions. The BSI published a draft code back in November 2017 and are due to publish the final version by March 2018.

In their response to the working group’s recommendation to capture and share data and intelligence, making use of existing systems used by Trading Standards and the Fire Service, the Government have said that work has already begun to map available data sources and available expertise. They say that the new office “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.” 

The new OPSS will also work with primary authorities and businesses to provide additional compliance advice based on the latest scientific and technical knowledge.

As well as fully supporting the Register My Appliance initiative, the Government will continue to work with stakeholders to see if there are additional ways to improve the registration of appliances. However, they are keen to stress that just because they are setting up the new office to help improve the safety of products in the UK, it doesn't lessen any of the legal responsibilities that sit with manufacturers, importers and retailers to present safe products to the market, and to take rapid effective action when safety issues arise with their products.

Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEIS) said:
“Our report published last week highlighted flaws in the UK’s product safety regime which is fragmented and poorly resourced. It is welcome that the Government are finally acting on this issue but it is important that consumers get a product safety agency which is well-resourced and equipped to hold companies to account.

“This new office’s first task should be to review the actions of Whirlpool and ensure the company quickly addresses the problem of one million faulty Whirlpool tumble-dryers in people’s homes. They should also make tackling the issue of plastic backed fridges an early priority. The BEIS Committee will be keen to see how this office works in practice and whether it will deliver on its promises to bolster consumer protection.”

Neil Gibbins, Chair of the working group, said:

“It has been my mission to make the public safe since I joined the fire service nearly 40 years ago. That’s why I’m pleased to see the government respond to our recommendations with concrete steps to ensure the safety of consumers, now and in the future.”

Read the Government's response to the Working Group report in full