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September 8, 2011

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National Trust signs up to Primary Authority scheme

The National Trust has entered into what it describes as a unique agreement with the HSE and Swindon Borough Council to improve health and safety standards and ensure sensible and consistent regulation across its hundreds of properties and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land.

The National Trust, a charity established in 1895, has some 3.9 million members and is headquartered in Swindon.  It is involved in many activities where HSE and local-authority powers overlap, such as where land is used for agriculture and for public enjoyment.

The new agreement, it says, allows consistent and sensible enforcement of health and safety at all its properties and means Swindon Borough Council and the Bristol office of the HSE will be able to advise local authorities across the UK on the best way to deal with National Trust issues in their area. Part of the Primary Authority scheme, the agreement marks the first partnership involving a charity, local authority and the national regulator.

At the signing ceremony yesterday (7 September), held at the Trust’s historic Fenton House, in Hampstead, London, director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds said the agreement was about “demonstrating how best practice can reflect the reality we live in”. She continued: “Total safety cannot be guaranteed but by working together across our sectors on what we have in common, we can improve standards.”

Dame Fiona did not shy away from mentioning the recent incidents in which two children were killed by falling tree branches on two of its properties, saying that the new, sensible approach of precautionary risk management would “reflect the needs of all our properties, allowing local managers to make sensible decisions”.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt, who is herself a member of the National Trust, said she called on the organisation in the very early days of her chairmanship of the regulator. “I was conscious of the interface between public safety and health and safety,” she explained, “so it is important for us to work with the National Trust on how it all fits together.”

She added that the partnership approach recognises that both local authorities and the HSE have a role to play in providing consistent and helpful advice “to help the Trust manage issues effectively in a way that health and safety doesn’t get in the way of the important work the organisation does”.

Phil Thomas, head of community and commercial safety at Swindon Borough Council, said the agreement exemplified the council’s aim to move away from an enforcement-based approach to one of helping businesses comply with health and safety legislation. He added: “We will work with the HSE to provide a coherent approach, get the balance right, and provide the right advice. Through good health and safety you can improve so much.”

Pictured signing the agreement at Fenton House are (l-r): Dame Fiona Reynolds, Judith Hackitt and SBC cabinet member for safer and stronger communities, Colin Lovell

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