The Chartered Trading Standard’s Institute’s workforce survey 2016 provides the most concise and up to date information available on the state of local authority trading standards services operating across England, Scotland and Wales.
The final report provides factual information on trading standards budgets, staffing levels, specialist skills and structure within the local authority framework, alongside a number of policy perspectives sections where CTSI provide comment on how these findings could affect service delivery on the ground in the near future.
If you could buy insurance to protect your granny from rogue traders, to guard against your tumble dryer catching fire, from being sold a horsemeat burger or to ensure you get the performance a car manufacturer promises, what would you pay? More than £1.99 a year?
Surprisingly that’s what we spend on trading standards in the UK, per person, per year, and those issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
The reality is trading standards services are being asked to do far more but, with a seemingly ever dwindling workforce and constant cuts, it is becoming impossible for some services to discharge the 250 statutory duties placed upon them.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute recently published its latest workforce survey and found that about 81 per cent of services believed the cuts had affected their ability to protect consumers.
Other findings from the survey showed that on average, staffing has fallen by 53 per cent, since 2009 and the total spend on trading standards has dropped from £213m to £124m in six years.
We believe the cuts to trading standards, which have left some budgets below £200,000, mean that just one complex crown court prosecution is now beyond the reach of some local councils’ services.
Coming in the wake of some of the UK’s biggest and most costly product and market failures in recent memory, these findings are of significant concern for the trading standards profession and the wider consumer protection landscape, which citizens have come to rely on.
Instead we have the untenable situation where chronically underfunded trading standards teams, in local councils, are tasked with holding huge international firms to account, with just a handful of staff.
Spending so little on market surveillance and consumer protection, with an economy as large as ours, simply does not make sense but nobody expects a blank cheque. We are instead calling for a government-led strategic restructure of trading standards services.
But it’s not just about insurance against the criminal and unscrupulous businesses out there. In many districts and boroughs regulatory services, including trading standards, is the only type of business support on offer. And as councils move towards near total reliance on business rates, it’s about ensuring they create the right conditions for their economies to thrive.