Much of CTSI’s work over the last few years has focused on providing evidence of how cutbacks have impacted on trading standards. Each of our Workforce Surveys has re-enforced the picture that the majority of services in the UK have seen staff numbers fall, which has led increasingly to a postcode lottery of service provision between authorities.
This research has been well recognised – and quoted – nationally and has helped gain political attention for the difficulties trading standards faces. Other articles in this journal have noted the consumer green paper’s call for a national conversation about trading standards as the foundation of well-enforced consumer protection that safeguards both consumers and businesses.
A local focus
However, the loudest discussions about the future of the profession nationally ignore the fact that, for at least the foreseeable future, the decisions on resources in each local authority will be made by the elected councillors. CTSI is therefore launching a new guide, entitled The Value of Trading Standards – A showcase of excellence, innovation and best practice, to highlight to councillors the value of trading standards both nationally and locally, through examples and case studies.
Trading standards services across the country continue to achieve success in consumer protection, but their worth to a local authority often goes unnoticed. We hope that, through the guide, councillors will gain insight into the varied work of trading standards, helping to open up conversations about the value that their local service has to offer to wider local authority objectives.
Before the guide was considered we requested that the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO) conduct a snap poll to establish whether there was an appetite for this project.
Of the 61 respondents, over 95% saw a value in a guide. Almost all felt the guide should consider work of individual authorities, partnerships between authorities (formal and informal), and work via regional groups.
When asked on which broad themes the guide should reflect, over 80% of respondents wanted economic growth, public health, and safeguarding the vulnerable to be featured. Wider ideas expressed were the inclusion of ground-breaking cases, online issues and cross-agency working amongst several other suggested topics.
The call for evidence was launched on 31 January and was sent to heads of service as well as being published on our website. We were delighted to receive a broad range of responses from over 30 local authorities across the UK.
It would be impossible to cover the full quality of these responses, as well as the breadth of trading standards responsibilities as a whole, in the 20-page guide. Those that demonstrate great examples of trading standards work but are not included in the guide will be featured online on the new Journal of Trading Standards news hub in the coming months.
In order to target councillors effectively, and considering the evidence received, we grouped the examples into two main themes – ‘supporting businesses’ and ‘protecting communities’. Outside of these, we sought to draw attention to particular issues that were strongly raised. The guide clearly shows a number of interesting trends.
First is the role that trading standards expertise and legislation plays in making partnerships more valuable, whether that is the City of London working with police on Operation Broadway, working with Environmental Health on housing issues or Cornwall Council Trading Standards working with other regulators.
Second is that trading standards is on the cutting edge of several issues that have national attention, such as work around ensuring that rogue landlords are not in a position to take advantage of the currently overwhelming demand for rental property.
Third was the number of examples of local issues – such as diving equipment regulations or distance postage charges – which were effectively handled by trading standards, further highlighting the level of adaptability the profession shows in responding to local demands.
Further, most of the initiatives showed a virtuous circle in which the specific projects allowed staff numbers to be maintained, thus providing capacity for other priorities.
Launching the guide
The contributing organisations have each been invited to present on their example at the CTSI Symposium held in Nottingham in June. They will outline how the project was set up, what benefits it brought, and detail any advice they would share with other authorities.
CTSI will also be in attendance at the LGA conference in Birmingham in July, where we can present the guide directly to English councils – our research shows these are the places where the most extreme cuts to frontline trading standards have taken place.