Trading Standards and consumer protection were at the top of the agenda in debates in the House of Lords this week.
On Tuesday (January 15) a debate focused on consumer protection beyond the UK’s exit from the EU, including questions over the future of the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC), with several members of the House quoting directly from CTSI’s Workforce Survey and Brexit Think Tank Report.
On Wednesday, the Lords discussed the European Union Committee Report, to which CTSI CEO Leon Livermore gave evidence on the importance of reciprocal relationships with partners both in the UK and within the EU.
Of particular note were comments made about the funding pressures faced by trading standards. Baroness Kennedy observed that: “The Government maintained its view that the issue of increased pressure on trading standards bodies remains a matter for local authorities, stating that they must remain, ‘responsible for their own finances and recruitment, and accountable to their local electorate’.
“It is all down to the local authorities, despite the fact that, as we all know, their central funding has been savagely cut, they are having difficulty funding most of the things they do and they are certainly likely to find this difficult to fund.”
Baroness Burt referred to “grave concern […] about the clear evidence that national regulatory and trading standards bodies are already struggling to fulfil their important roles because of financial constraints, even before the additional complications and challenges of Brexit.
“All the work that our consumer protection bodies do needs to be properly funded,” she added. “If it is not being sufficiently funded now, what hope is there for protecting the needs of consumers in the future?”
Baroness Hayter raised the issue that “local enforcement bodies – trading standards – have been halved since 2010″.
“CTSI warns us that it will be exactly those front-line trading standards which will have to unpick the uncertainties after exit and of course will have to carry out far more checks once we can no longer rely on safe products arriving from the EU,” she added.
UK ECC’s future
On Thursday (January 17), CTSI Vice-President Baroness Wilcox questioned Lord Henley, Under-Secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), on what assessments the Government has made regarding consumer rights when purchasing from EU retailers/manufacturers post-Brexit.
Baroness Wilcox pointed out that since it was formed 11 years ago, the UK ECC has handled more than 100,000 cases, and questioned what assurances could be made over the organisation’s future.
Lord Henley stated that “in the event of a no-deal exit, the Government have committed to fund the UK European Consumer Centre for at least one more year until March 2020. That will obviously be kept under review during this year.”
Former CTSI President Baroness Crawley added to the pressure on Government to continue to support the UK ECC, expressing her concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on consumer protection: “It is clear to all of us in the sector that consumer rights and protections have been continually strengthened through our membership of the European Union,” she said.
Livermore commented: “Given the work undertaken by the UK ECC in protecting consumers, I hope that the value of such a service will be evident enough for the Government to continue funding beyond 2020.”
He added: “It gives me a great sense of pride to see how our work is used to further the public debate and help build lasting protections for such an unprecedented time.”