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What is the purpose of accreditation?

In UKAS’ Annual Report for 2021, Paul Greenwood shares an overview of the purpose of accreditation.

When the UKAS symbol is applied to a quotation for work, report or certificate, product or publicity material it signifies that a truly independent evaluation has been conducted of the competence, impartiality and performance capability of the accredited organisation.  This delivers confidence in of the quality of the products or services being provided.

As the sole National Accreditation Body for the United Kingdom it is UKAS’ responsibility to ensure that confidence is maintained in accredited certification, testing, inspection and calibration organisations. Accreditation by UKAS means that independent evaluation by competent assessors with relevant technical knowledge and experience has been conducted of these evaluators, to demonstrate the fitness for purpose against internationally recognised standards, of the activities being conducted under their approved scope.

Standards and accreditation play an important role in the UK’s National Quality Infrastructure (NQI). Overall, the NQI makes a significant contribution to the economy, health and safety, and the environment. It underpins World Trade Organization rules on eliminating technical barriers to trade by facilitating the mutual recognition of products and services and regulatory equivalence across national borders.  The outcome is increased confidence in domestic and international markets, greater participation in global trade and a stronger balance of payments.

Both standards and accreditation are primarily voluntary systems, but some aspects of accreditation are mandatory. In a number of areas it is therefore a requirement to obtain accreditation before offering certain services, in others it is a de facto ‘license’ to trade inasmuch as key purchasers expect suppliers to hold it. Accreditation is not simply a mechanism for demonstrating compliance and conformity however; it provides market differentiation and objective proof that an organisation complies with best practice. The process of seeking and maintaining accreditation is often invaluable in identifying improvements and efficiencies in policies and processes which can ultimately result in reduced overheads and running costs. A 2013 University of Birkbeck study 2013 concluded that accreditation contributed around £1bn to the UK economy each year.