10th December 2020

Voices from the Front Line

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt trading standards activities, we hear from frontline officers about the unprecedented strains it has placed on enforcement – and getting ready for EU Exit.


By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
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Being asked to lead on the business restrictions requirements shows trading standards teams’ expertise and skill
We are spending much more time providing advice to traders who are looking at alternative ways of trading
I haven’t even ventured to think about the amount of work Brexit is likely to generate. I am now working longer hours to just stay on top of work

What impact has the COVID crisis had on your day-to-day work?
“From our services point of view, our team was small before COVID and we were struggling to provide trading standards services. However, since the beginning of the crisis our team have had to prioritise COVID complaints and enquires, which has taken up about 95% of our time. That has resulted in very little trading standards work being carried out. We have in particular noticed several problem traders including builders, gardeners and internet traders, which our service has not been able to look at.”

Aside from COVID, what else have you been focused on?
“Being asked to lead on the business restrictions requirements shows trading standards teams’ expertise and skill. We have also been working jointly with Environmental Health colleagues. However we have concerns that after the crisis local authorities will be asked to make further savings and this will be used against us – the argument being that if we managed during the crisis, we don’t need any further staff or can manage on even less.”

Do you think enforcers and businesses in your area are sufficiently prepared for the changes EU Exit could bring about?
“Our service has not had the chance to give any consideration or prepare for the changes EU Exit could potentially bring. No businesses have contacted our service for advice on EU Exit and we have not carried out any pro-active actions to advise local businesses of the implications of this.”

What impact has the COVID crisis had on your day-to-day work?
“Because of COVID much of our conventional trading standards work has had to be shelved. One of our TSOs has been moved to oversee some COVID Marshalls so we are back to being short-staffed again. Perhaps the only exception to the COVID emphasis is my specific work on Food and Animal Health where, on top of COVID, I’ve never been busier.”

Aside from COVID, what else have you been focused on?
“There has been a significant increase in unlicensed dog breeders, and the price of puppies has risen significantly since lockdown. A vet recently quoted me that she was aware of one litter of ten puppies being sold for £8,000 each.”

Do you think enforcers and businesses in your area are sufficiently prepared for the changes EU Exit could bring about?
“As the end of the transition period nears, enquiries are now arriving in relation to EU Exit and alterations to export and import requirements. In spite of government publicity for businesses to get ready for January 1, 2021, I do not feel that many traders (and local authorities for that matter) are really prepared due to prioritising COVID restrictions.”

What impact has the COVID crisis had on your day-to-day work?
Unfortunately 50% of our team were transferred across to the COVID Response Team, leaving us even more understaffed. The three staff that remain are now trying to do the work originally done by ten staff. The public still have an expectation that we can respond immediately, and complaint numbers haven’t decreased; in fact they have increased, with more and more complaints being about online trading rather than traditional traders. We are also spending much more time fielding enquiries and providing advice to traders who are now looking at alternative ways of trading that traditionally they haven’t needed to.”

Aside from COVID, what else have you been focused on?
“Many new traders don’t seek advice and just start trading without advice, and as a consequence are generating work through complaints. Also there is the issue of social media sales, and people selling on social media to augment their income possibly because they have been furloughed. The reduced number of qualified weights and measures inspectors has seen a demand for verification work in neighbouring authorities rise, making more demands on officers’ time.”

Do you think enforcers and businesses in your area are sufficiently prepared for the changes EU Exit could bring about?
“I haven’t even ventured to think about the amount of work Brexit is likely to generate. So whilst I don’t have a commute to and from work, I am now working longer hours to just stay on top of work.”

What impact has the COVID crisis had on your day-to-day work?
“We started to get involved with COVID issues around the middle of October – it was Public Health, Environmental Health and Licensing before that. We have been conducting COVID compliance visits that the Public Health Team have referred through due to complaints and some routine ‘support’ visits to problem areas such as social clubs in the area, at least before lockdown.

“We are also hand-delivering NHS Test & Trace letters to people who have tested positive but who have been uncontactable by the national team.

“I personally have been knocking on the door (standing two metres away and wearing a mask) to ensure the person is at the property, otherwise it’s a pointless task. But I have found it’s been a pointless task anyway, as each person I managed to speak to already knew they’d tested positive. The national team had contacted them… multiple times. One couple had 24 calls to tell them they tested positive.

“Clearly the system isn’t working and I feel it’s just a complete waste of our time given we have so many more important issues to deal with at this time. And if we’re just putting it through the letter box, why not just post it!”

 

Compiled with thanks to Mark Duffy