Product Safety: CTSI calls on governments to shakeup system
CTSI starts its policy diary with an issue that could not be more serious and, sadly, more timely.
Today, a report from Which? reinforces what we have known for some time: That the system for ensuring that products are safe before they come to market, or are quickly removed if not, has been degraded over recent years and is no longer fit for purpose.
Regardless of the outcome of the Public Inquiry, the tragedy at Grenfell Tower shows why we need a rigorous and effective product safety regime. As Which? points out, this is not restricted to the safety of white goods or construction materials, but extends to all products from toys to cosmetics to cars.
At the root of the failing regime is an absence of coordination and leadership on product safety and years of cuts to frontline trading standards services. In December 2016 the National Audit Office (NAO) reported that local Trading Standards lost 56 percent of full-time equivalent staff since 2009. Twenty services in England have reduced funding by over 60 percent since 2011 and some now have only one qualified officer.
For many local authorities, product safety is just one element of a single trading standards officers' responsibility. Barely enough to mop up a local flood, not enough to help turn off the tap.
CTSI is not the only professional body to argue that fewer resources for our members have put consumers and citizens at risk. So, we welcome that Which? is just as clear that governments need to act.
Why is getting product safety right a job for governments when trading standards is a local authority function? Simply, because we cannot expect over 200 local authorities to reorganise trading standards, and product safety in particular, on a national and more strategic basis. They do not have the responsibility, incentive, resources or capability to do it. Only governments can do this. I say governments, because the answer is not just in London, but in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast as well.
It is an unpalatable truth that action often follows tragedy. Sometimes that means knee-jerk measures because something must be seen to be done. But let's be clear. On this issue, governments across the UK do not need to make policy on the hoof. The Which? report builds on work from the NAO, from the Lynn Faulds Wood report, the Gibbins’ working group and years of representation from CTSI and others.
In particular the UK Government received a report from Lynn Faulds Wood in February 2016 which highlighted "the urgent need to examine - nationally and regionally - how market surveillance of consumer goods should be organised and funded [given] the lack of nationally coordinated market surveillance..."
Government has had the expert analysis, the broad agreement of frontline agencies and a clear set of recommendations for immediate action and for longer term structural reform.
Tragically, and whatever is established as causing the start and spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower, it now has the focus to act.
CTSI joins others in urging government to do so swiftly and decisively.
Government should actively consider all the recommendations from the various reports and working groups. But some actions are necessary conditions for success:
- Establish, or commission, a website to provide a single information source for consumers and others on product recalls and corrective actions,
- Establish a central, technically expert, product safety team to provide national leadership, conduct forensic market surveillance and support frontline trading standards,
- Make continued membership of the European RAPEX early warning system a priority at the beginning of Brexit negotiations
- Reshape trading standards to provide larger, strategic units, that can work with a central product safety team to deliver the interventions necessary to keep unsafe products off the shelves and out of people’s homes.