News item

Cuts to trading standards at odds with Government's economic plans

Houses of Parliament

Baroness Crawley, President of the Trading Standards Institute (TSI), has called for the government to protect local regulatory services in light of the recent round of spending cuts directed at local authorities. 

 In a debate held in the House of Lords on Thursday 27 June, Baroness Crawley claimed that while not always in the public eye, their 'behind-the-scenes' preventative nature makes them essential to economic growth.

"My Lords, this is an unashamed shout-out for those local services that protect our citizens across the country and promote legitimate businesses at a time when economic growth is not only desirable but essential'.

Likewise, Baroness Hayter said: "As the Minister will have been briefed, he well knows that cutting £1 from trading standards costs the economy £6. Exactly how does this help the economy to move from “rescue to recovery”, as the Chancellor articulated yesterday?"

Explaining that for the local authorities to be effective they need to be well resourced, Baroness Crawley said: "A well resourced regulatory system brings about significant benefits to society. A cut to trading standards and environmental health is a cut to community health, a barrier to preventing crime, a boost to fraudsters and a shot in the arm for those who distort our economy and make it extremely difficult for honest enterprises to survive."

Furthering the argument against more cuts, Baroness Crawley went on to say: "As well as the day-to-day running of the service, there are the emergencies—those dreadful, nasty surprises such as the horse meat scandal. The food industry was shaken to its core earlier this year by the adulteration of meat products. Members of the public, as well as Parliament, were calling for more resources, more sampling and for the service to carry out more unannounced checks. How will the Government avert a future adulteration of the food chain and how do they intend to strengthen our enforcement procedures?"

Baroness Crawley also explained concerns surrounding giving 48 hours notice to businesses before an inspection, and only being able to conduct instant inspections if there is intelligence suggesting something is wrong, giving criminals the chance to hide any incriminating evidence and escape suspicion and ultimately prosecution. 

"I thank the Minister, but how can you establish that intelligence if you are working on the basis of always giving notice? How do you get a body of intelligence behind you?"

Adding his concerns of a 48 hour notice period, Chairman of the National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) Lord Toby Harris said: "I am sure that the Government are serious about ensuring that the consumer is protected, but we have to acknowledge that the pressure on local budgets is not helping. There is a danger that the Government—I assume unintentionally—are about to make it all worse.

He further added: "The Government seem to envisage that in future two days’ notice should be given to traders before a visit." 

Lord Harris then went on to explain that it is unlikely for rogue traders, upon being given 48 hours warning of an inspection, to leave counterfeit goods and records of scams in plain sight of inspectors, thus making it difficult to catch them.

Fears of Government's choice to side-step responsibility for consumer protection by putting it in the hands of local authorities were also addressed.

Baroness Hayter said: "While the Government will try to suggest that responsibility for cutting trading standards rests with local councils, what choice do those councils have in the face of mounting social care bills and ring-fenced education budgets?

"Some suggest that the answer, as we have heard, is for more innovation to make efficiencies. That seems to be the Government’s answer to just about every problem. However, there is compelling evidence from the National Audit Office that the unique nature of risks from a business operating across the UK, as opposed to risks originating from the building it occupies, means that something more radical is needed to safeguard consumer protection. We are therefore talking about not just funding but intelligence, structures and powers. Nor can the Government’s localist policies be used to shield or absolve them from their accountability for consumer protection. It is a government remit and there is a responsible Minister."

In response, Government Whip in the House of Lords, Lord Popat of Harrow said: "Local authority regulators are at the forefront of interaction with business and have an important role to play in supporting their local areas by protecting consumers and facilitating local growth. While they are best placed to regulate local issues, there are challenges in achieving consistency between them."

Later on he added that while Government give the money, it is the local authorities' responsibility for how they spend it, not Government's.

"We are also ensuring that people have the information they need to hold their local authorities to account for how they spend taxpayers’ money, and for citizens, businesses and the voluntary sector to suggest ways of providing better value services which meet local needs. The code of recommended practice for local authorities on data transparency sets out three guiding principles: they should be open, demand-led, and timely." 

Leon Livermore, TSI's Chief Executive said: "We are grateful Baroness Crawley, our President,  has raised this issue in the House of Lords and it's encouraging to see trading standards being discussed in Parliament and our opinions are being voiced. Although most businesses operate within the law, it is concerning to think that rogue traders would be able to stay one step ahead if 48 hours notice has to be given before a visit, and will lead to difficulties in catching criminals in the act.

"Often trading standards and other regulatory authorities risk being overlooked, but the work that trading standards and environmental health do is absolutely integral to communities, businesses and economic progress and is essential that this is recognised in Government." 

 

ENDS

 

Notes for Editors:

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Irja Howie at TSI press office on 08456089430 or pressoffice@tsi.org.uk

 

Trading Standards Institute (TSI)

TSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally.  We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities.

TSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses.  

www.tradingstandards.gov.uk 

 

The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB)

The NTSB is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards. 

NTSB provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

Local Authorities: Regulatory Services Question for Short Debate

Held at the House of Lords on Thursday 27 June at 4pm.

Link to document

DATE: 28 June 2013