News item

Call for greater consumer focus to turn around economy

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is urging the Government to put consumers at the heart of everything it does - as part of the battle to turn around the difficult economic climate.

TSI is calling for the appointment of a cabinet-level minister for consumers, as well as representation in other Government departments.

'Confident consumers will buy more goods and so improve the economy - so it makes sense to have a greater consumer focus within the top level of Government,' said David Sanders, TSI's spokesman on civil law.

'Alongside this would go the political will to invest in trading standards at national, regional and local level, so that we can educate consumers to avoid being ripped off by criminals and help legitimate businesses to prosper by providing good services.

'All of this will help to tackle the scams and cowboys that undermine the economy because they skim off the money that should by rights be going to legitimate business.

'We are currently in a difficult economic period - and trading standards is a vital service in providing consumers with the confidence needed to turn that around.'

Mr Sanders gave as an example the problem of loan sharks - an issue that trading standards services around the country are constantly tackling, boosted by Government investment in specialist teams working across local authority boundaries to track down and take action against the rogues.

'By enforcement, we can take a loan shark out of the market - but there will often be someone else who will pick up the slack and make money out of vulnerable consumers,' said Mr Sanders.

'However, in those areas of the country where more money has been invested in local Credit Unions, there is a safe alternative for the desperate people who fall victim to the sky-high interest levels and menacing tactics used by the crooked loan sharks.'

TSI is responding to the Consumer Law Review currently being carried out by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Trade and Consumer Affairs Gareth Thomas to shape the future strategy of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

Among the calls made by TSI are for consumers to be led and represented in the cabinet and across Government departments and for greater investment in the training of trading standards professionals.

The number of trainee trading standards officers fell by 31% - from 140 to 97 students - during 2007 and this could seriously compromise the ability of trading standards to deliver local and national priorities unless the trend is reversed, TSI warned recently.

Other proposals in TSI's response to the review include setting up a 'general licence to trade' - so that all businesses could abide by a simplified set of rules and regulations that could be enforced more easily if they were breached.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: 'We will use the review to press BERR to put the consumer interest on a par with the better regulation interest across the machinery of Government.

'This, we shall argue, is the obvious way to help the Government to walk the talk of ensuring better regulation is not achieved at the cost of the levels of consumer protection and empowerment required for modern, global markets.

'Just as for better regulation, therefore, why not ensure each part of Government has 'consumer' included in a minister's portfolio and officials appointed and directed in support?

'Confident, educated, empowered and informed consumers drive competitive, equitable, fair and transparent markets that facilitate opportunity and success for responsive and socially responsible UK businesses.'

Notes to Editors

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.