A recent Action Plan was launched by the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) which looks to unlock the full potential of voluntary standards to support innovation. 

"This Plan sets out how Government and the NQI partners will build on these strong foundations to ensure that standardisation rises to the challenges of the future by unlocking the synergies between stakeholder-led standardisation and Government’s innovation priorities"

Lord Callanan

Retailers will be aware of voluntary standards such as:

  • PAS 7100 on Supporting Better Product Recalls
  • PAS 7050 on Bringing Safe Products to Market
  • FLEX 5555 Community Face Coverings

The plan details six actions:

1) Deploy an agile approach to develop and review standards in priority areas to respond to the challenges of fast-paced technological change. 

2) Accelerate the digitalisation of standards to foster greater efficiency and flexibility for industries of the future. 

3) Upscale engagement with stakeholders, in particular innovators, smaller businesses and consumer representatives, to boost their participation in standardisation and draw in their views. 

4) Strengthen the strategic coordination between government, the NQI partners and UK Research and Innovation on future priorities for standardisation and the wider NQI to support innovation. 

5) Raise awareness of how standards and the wider NQI can help inform and support the delivery of government policies, in particular to enable innovation and the deployment of emerging technologies. 

6) Embed consideration of standards in the policy-making process to unlock their value in fostering growth and innovation. 

What could the Action Plan mean for retail?

As with many sectors, retailers are seeing the use of standards increase. Standards are usually considered to be a quicker, faster alternative to legislation. As they are developed by industry and agreed by consensus, the industry generally welcomes standards as an alternative to regulation.

In the future it may be that standards are increasingly used as an alternative to regulation.

Standards can also be developed quickly, in response to a market need such as with FLEX 5555 on Face Coverings. European (EN), British (BS) standards can take between one and four years to develop, where PAS (Publically Available Specifications) can take between 9 and 12 months to develop.

Retailers have concerns that regulators and enforcers could mistake PAS for regulations. Not following a PAS does not make a product or process unsafe or in non-compliance with the law. For retailers that trade outside the UK, a variation in standards (also known as divergence) between different countries standards could lead to problems placing goods in different national markets. 

Who developed the Action Plan? 

The National Quality Infrastructure which consists of :

National Physical Labroratory

British Standards Institute

UK Accreditation Service 

BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

OPSS (Office for Product Safety and Standards)