The UK government has bowed to intense pressure from industry and announced plans to reduce the bureaucratic demands associated with the introduction of a new post-Brexit “UKCA” safety and quality assurance mark.
Paul Scully, the small-business minister, said on Monday that the UK would pass changes to make it “easier and cheaper” to transition to the new UKCA regime, which has been heavily criticised as unnecessary and expensive by industry bodies.
The “easements”, which include recognising EU tests on existing products as the basis for awarding a UKCA mark, were designed to “reduce compliance burdens and prevent costs that could be passed on to consumers,” he said.
However, industry groups, while welcoming the concession, warned that the government’s decision to press ahead with the certification scheme from January 1 2023 would still pile costs on to business for no obvious benefit.
The UKCA certificate, whose introduction has already been delayed by a year, is a British equivalent of the EU’s widely-used and internationally recognised “CE” safety mark.
The British Chambers of Commerce said in December that businesses were “not persuaded” by the UKCA. It welcomed the latest move to cut the expense of introducing the scheme, but warned it did not solve broader concerns over the cost of the policy.
“After the end of 2022 firms will face significant new cost pressures from the introduction of the new markings system,” said William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC.
Under the changes, the government has dropped a requirement for imported parts to carry a UKCA mark before being fitted to machinery — such as a German-made lift — already installed in the UK.
But Nick Mellor, managing director of the Lift and Escalator Industry Association, said the concession, while welcome, would not help with the future cost of certifying some 8,000 lifts installed each year, with 1,200 different types of safety components.
“It is important to recognise that, even with these measures, having to take equipment through UK conformity assessment has been, and will continue to be, an extra cost on UK businesses without delivering any increase in safety or quality,” he added.
The construction industry, which warned last year that UKCA marks would cause shortages of building materials, said the concession would help keep products flowing but that key technical aspects about the UKCA regime remained unanswered.
“There are still a number of significant questions that need to be worked through, such as the persistent shortfall in capacity of the UK certification and testing sector,” said Peter Caplehorn, chief executive of the Construction Products Association.
Scully said the UKCA mark enabled the UK “to take control of the way products are regulated” but industry groups have warned against creating a dual certification regime for goods that have passed EU assessments.
Critics have also noted that CE-marked goods are free to circulate in Northern Ireland and therefore have unfettered access to Great Britain’s marketplace, raising questions as to why CE-marked goods cannot be accepted from Europe or the rest of the world.
Sam Lowe, director of trade at the consultancy Flint Global, said that while there was an argument for a separate UK regime in some sectors, it did not need to be imposed on all areas at once.
“It would make more sense for the UK to commit long-term to an approach that, unless there is a good reason, allows for EU CE markings to be sufficient for products placed on the UK market, so long as the underlying UK product standard is the same,” he said.