Robust new Standards system a ‘must have’

“The review of Standards didn’t just happen to turn out ok, and the changes are not a done deal yet either.”

 

By Bruce Goldsworthy

The changes coming up to maintain and strengthen the development and delivery of New Zealand Standards were no accident.

The review of Standards didn’t just happen to turn out ok, and the changes are not a done deal yet either. But when the details are put into law early next year we expect them to contain all the points that we at the Employers and Manufacturers Association and Business New Zealand recommended.

Minister Craig Foss personally invited our comments on them in a letter earlier this month, and we responded emphasising a number of points we have previously made plain in this publication and elsewhere.

The review of New Zealand’s Standards system began last year though behind the scenes the disquiet had been bubbling away for some time. A large number of parties reliant on Standards were not happy with how the organisation had been performing, and for its part Standards New Zealand had clearly been underfunded for years. Revenues it should have been getting were being siphoned off for causes unrelated to Standards development leaving the organisation less able to do its job than it wanted. The users of Standards were becoming more disgruntled. The standoff could not go on.

Credit must go to the officials at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for finding a way through the morass.

Bruce Goldsworthy (1)The fundamentals of the Standards system have been retained throughout the review, which are to ensure New Zealand has an independent and sustainable standards system.

As Minister Foss says: ‘Standards make an important contribution to a more productive and competitive economy – for building products, energy safety, health and disability, environmental management, and information technology standards.”

For some industries the wording could be much stronger. In the words of one electrical products manufacturer, ‘we live and die by Standards.’

The review decisions are to include:

* A new Standards model to replace the Standards Council and Standards New Zealand.

* Standards approval will be undertaken by an independent statutory board.

* Standards development will be undertaken by an independent statutory officer within the MBIE.

* Independent committees will continue to comprise industry and technical experts, consumer representatives and regulators.

We said the changes were pleasing because a robust and independent Standards system is vital, and core business for industry.

We noted that what was being retained was as we had agreed with MBIE officials, that Standards development and approvals processes would remain fully independent, andÊthat the expertise of the present Standards development team will be retained, albeit within the structure of the MBIE.

But we expressed concern too that the question still outstanding was over the level of funding that Standards would be allocated; we want to see government lift its commitment to this, especially in the wake of the botulism and food related scares.

There’s cause for optimism that Minister Foss will come to the party when he said ‘The new model will better align Standards development with important government priorities such as innovation and trade facilitation.”

In our letter responding to the Minister before his announcement we stressed again the importance of keeping Standards with an entirely independent board and for the board’s membership to be appointed solely on the basis of their technical competence.

We also stressed:

* Funding for the Board, its activities and for the Statutory Officer within MBIE should not come from industry levies but as part of the MBIE Vote as should the membership of ISO and IEC.

* In the development of new and revised Standards, ISO/IEC Standards should be required in New Zealand or for Joint Australia/New Zealand Standards, as a primary source, and the use of non ISO/IEC elements in New Zealand Standards should be discouraged as a non-tariff barrier to trade.

We also said the Standards statutory officer within MBIE should:

* Wherever possible ensure the opportunity for industry participation in the development and revision of ISO/IEC and Joint Australian/New Zealand Standards and not rely on regulator only participation.

* When Standards are subject to review, updating and archiving, the MBIE officer must consult industry to ensure decisions are appropriate.

* When Standards come up for review they need to be prioritised on the basis of their current relevance with a time line for action assigned in a work programme for them.

In strengthening the funding model we said:

* Levies currently paid by the gas, electricity and building industries should be clearly identified for use in the development of the Standards for each sector. These levies should not be diverted to the development of other types of regulation but retained expressly for the purpose they are collected for, that is the Standards development process within the specific sector.

 In relation to MBIE’s efforts to promote standardisation we said MBIE should:

Encourage the recognition of Standards in preference to other forms of regulation.

* Encourage all agencies to use the official Standards system when developing Standards whether or not those Standards are to be mandatory. Eg EECA-MEPS and EPA.

* Support industry-led initiatives where they contribute to the development and enhancement of internationally aligned Standards and ISO/IEC processes (for example, industry funded ISO review groups where no levy is available to fund the activity).

More information is at www.med.govt.nz/business/standards-conformance

We’re pleased to say all these points appear to have been taken on board. The future for a new Standards organisation and system looks much the better for it.

 – Bruce Goldsworthy is Manager of Advocacy and Manufacturing for the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

 

 

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