24th January 2023

A time of crisis – and opportunity

One thing is for certain: we are living in unprecedented times. Amidst the disruption and instability though, there are reasons to be optimistic.

By John Herriman
Chief Executive, CTSI
We have an opportunity right now, during very worrying times for consumers and businesses, to show just how much of an impact our profession has in making a positive difference

I was reflecting the other day on just how much has happened in the first three years of this decade that have not only had a profound impact nationally but internationally as well. It started with the pandemic, then Brexit, then the cost-of-living crisis, which was then made worse by the tragic war in Ukraine as well as by the self-inflicted pain of the Government’s mini-budget with its ensuing market turmoil.

Against this backdrop we also see a drive for regulatory reform, and it is undoubtedly important to ensure legislation keeps pace with the rapidly changing world. But there is also a huge risk that proposals like the Retained EU Law Bill will result in important protections for consumers and businesses being lost.

All of those events and policies have long-term social, economic and legislative consequences which will be pervasive – and we really are seeing a winter of discontent as the public mood responds. Alongside all of this we also had the death of Her Majesty the Queen, a national and international figurehead whose passing marked the end of not just a reign, but an era as well.

Dramatic changes
The result of all of this change over a very short period is that the established macro and micro world order is being challenged and is adjusting out of necessity.

We have seen incredibly dramatic changes in both business and consumer behaviours, especially in relation to online marketplaces. Consumers are being exposed to new risks on an almost daily basis and we are constantly seeing reports in the press about new scams or ways in which people are being exposed to increasing threats. Data from Citizens Advice highlights increasing levels of consumer detriment and similar data from the CBI shows falling levels of business confidence. At a time when everyone agrees it is only an economic recovery that can fundamentally improve outcomes for consumers and businesses, the prospect of that sometimes feels like a long way off.

Consumers sit at the heart of our work and our social purpose as a profession. One thing I am very aware of through previous work in the charity sector is that those who were most vulnerable during the pandemic will be exactly the same individuals and groups who are most at risk during the cost-of-living crisis.

The most marginalised groups in society were impacted then and they will be
again now, including many ethnically diverse communities.

It’s therefore incredible to see the way the profession responds to these challenges and there is no better example of that than the Hajj Project in The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, which recently won the 2022 Institute’s Hero Award.

Line of defence
Our role as a profession during this cost-of-living crisis, and against a backdrop of change, has therefore never been more important. Members of our profession are working tirelessly on the front line in local government Trading Standards services, in devolved nation Trading Standards structures, in the civil service, in businesses and in not-for-profit organisations.

The way I like to view this is as a form of layered defence and support system, protecting consumers and aiding businesses, where the profession becomes more than the sum of its parts through collaboration and partnership.

I have, however, sensed that over a period of years there has been, for a whole variety of reasons ranging from legislative changes through to budget cuts, a gradual fragmentation of the profession. It is this fragmentation that ‘CTSI’s Vision and Strategy – helping to build a fairer world for consumers and businesses’ directly addresses by showing how the profession can directly help during the current challenging circumstances.

We know how important our work is to the economic recovery, and how protecting consumers directly affects consumer and business confidence. Our new vision shows our increased relevance during a period when the world order is changing, and our challenge now is to keep increasing the profession’s collective profile, showing the critical nature of our activities and working in partnership with high-profile regulatory enforcement bodies like the CMA. We deserve the same level of recognition, and that’s what we are striving for.

We have an opportunity right now, during very worrying times for consumers and businesses, to show just how much of an impact our profession has in making a positive difference through all of our combined efforts. We know that Government is looking for solutions and we have many of them, and are indeed proactively forging ahead on many fronts as we see increasing levels of consumers detriment and business risk.

In a crisis we are proving to be exactly what the country and the public needs – and there is so much evidence that not only are we responding at a time of turbulence, but we are also adapting to the new world order and the key role we can play in it.

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