Last week’s 2022 CTSI Conference saw colleagues from across the consumer protection spectrum coming together to share ideas, experiences and expertise. The mood over the three-day event at the Bristol Mercure Grand Hotel was upbeat and enthusiastic, boosted no doubt by the glorious weather. And the filming of an episode of Doctor Who outside the venue added an extra dimension of excitement, with Time Lords gathering to fight evil forces from across the universe.
Back on Earth, the Conference provided attendees with an opportunity to hear about how Trading Standards is doing battle with enemies of its own, from the spiralling cost-of-living crisis and scams, to the mislabelling of food allergens and rogue elements in the lettings sector.
The Conference opened with a thought-provoking plenary in which speakers addressed the necessity for Trading Standards to embrace innovation to take on new challenges. CTSI Chair, Louise Baxter, kicked off proceeedings by talking about her passion for tackling scams, while CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, spoke in his keynote address about the need to “make the mechanisms that protect consumers appropriate to the risks” and pointed out that among the recommendations of the recently published Khan Review is a call for further investment in Trading Standards.
Herriman also criticised what he sees as “a particularly myopic view of regulation” in some quarters, and called for better-informed, more robust regulation suited to the challenges of modern Britain. A key part of this is the new CTSI Vision, and Herriman set out how the Institute plans to position itself front-and-centre in national conversations about keeping the public safe.
Professor Chris Hodges, Emeritus Professor of Justice Systems at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies offered his insights, based on years of research, into the necessity for a “science-based” approach to regulation which embraces co-operation and innovation in a “non-adversarial environment”.
Closing the plenary, Professor Justice Courtney Abel of the University of Guyana gave his own perspectives into how the power of symbolism should be embraced and celebrated by all those who work in consumer protection, and the need to “grasp the bigger picture” that Trading Standards professionals are part of a worldwide community which includes all those who uphold truth and justice.
In the buzzing exhibition hall, representatives of organisations including the CMA, NTS, OPSS, Citizens Advice and the UKICC offered updates on their activities to visitors, and were on hand to answer questions, share ideas and build relationships with other consumer protection professionals. The Natural Diamond Council, Civica, TrueCall, WagTail and Grundfos were also in attendance to explore ways in which they can work more closely with Trading Standards to protect the public, along with representatives of brand protection agencies and law firms.
Among the many seminar sessions held across the three-day event, highlights included an update on the work of the CTSI Race and Equalities Working Group, with a call for CTSI Branches up and down the UK to establish their own Groups and encourage more people to get involved in the Ubuntu mentorship programme. The session kicked off with CTSI College of Fellows Chair, Chris Armstrong, holding hands aloft with Professor Abel and singing along to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ – no doubt one of the more memorable images from this year’s Conference.
Another part of the Conference sure to remain in the minds of many was the attendance of Gemma, Adam and Owen Lee, the family of the late Megan Lee, who died in 2016 at the age of 15 after suffering an allergic reaction to a takeaway. The Lee family came to Conference to support the launch of a new allergen awareness resource created by the Gwent Food Group, and to accept a special award in recognition of their ongoing work to promote allergen awareness. All of those in attendance at the reception were humbled and moved by the Lee family’s commitment to helping others and their desire to bring forth something positive from their own personal tragedy.
Day 2’s plenary session saw keynote speeches from CTSI President Lord Jamie Lindsay and Consumer Minister Paul Scully, who thanked Trading Standards professionals for their ongoing efforts to protect consumers in a challenging environment and provided an update on how the outcomes of the ‘Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy’ consultation will affect their work, before taking a tour of the exhibition hall and meeting with delegates. Scully also signed up to the Friends Against Scams ‘ScamBassador’ programme, becoming the millionth person to do so.
The CTSI Awards Dinner that evening provided attendees with a chance to let their hair down and celebrate one another’s achievements over the past 12 months, with the dancing going on into the small hours of Friday morning.
Friday morning’s session in the Mercure Ballroom focused on housing. Presented by James Munro of the NTS Estate and Lettings Agency Team and introduced via video message by Eddie Hughes MP, the session offered an update from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on upcoming legislation in the housing sector, giving attendees an opportunity to ask questions about the newly published ‘A fairer private rented sector’ White Paper.
Conference wrapped up with a final plenary examining how international regulators and consumer organisations are putting innovation and collaboration into practice as the UK seeks to realise opportunities for global trade. Chaired by David MacKenzie, CTSI Lead Officer for eCommerce, the session offered some fascinating glimpses of how Trading Standards can harness global networks to better protect consumers.
As the trestle tables and banners in the exhibition hall were folded away at the end of this year’s Conference and attendees headed out into the Bristol sunshine to make their way home, there was a sense that after two years of disruption and virtual meetings, Conference has refound its feet as an essential event in the consumer protection calendar, a unique opportunity to celebrate successes and assess the challenges facing Trading Standards. Although many attendees will have been overwhelmed by the scale of the task facing the profession, for most next year’s event in Birmingham can’t come quickly enough.
Photos of some of the highlights of this year’s event are available here.