John Herriman came aboard CTSI as its Chief Executive in April 2021, having previously served as Director of Training at the Maritime Reserves and as Executive Director of the National Association of Head Teachers. He joined the Institute at a time of upheaval, both inside and outside Trading Standards. The aftermaths of Brexit and Covid had created their own unique set of challenges for enforcers, businesses and consumers, and the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ of central government-imposed austerity measures, along with the subsequent cost-of-living crisis, has only compounded the difficulty for those working on the front line of consumer protection.
Herriman’s background makes him well positioned to steady the Trading Standards ship, and he has brought with him a passion for education, training and recruitment. His tenure thus far has also coincided with a renewed emphasis on campaigning and political engagement, which he believes has given CTSI a more prominent role in speaking truth to power.
“The profile of Trading Standards has risen exponentially over the past 12 to 18 months, and that’s because we’ve put a real focus on being a policy-led organisation, which we weren’t necessarily before,” Herriman says. “We’ve been on an incredible journey, most visibly represented by vapes. Within the past six months, we’ve seen two announcements from the Prime Minister in relation to a new vaping task force and £30m being allocated to Trading Standards, Border Force and HMRC. That puts Trading Standards back on the map.
“It’s been really rewarding to see, because it’s a recognition of what the profession does. It’s also recognition of the importance of our members across all of the different sectors that they work in, particularly in reinforcing the value of place-based regulation, which there had been a loss of focus on.
“And then there have been other areas where our profile has grown, for example in our campaigning for a legal definition of vegan foods and many, many other topics as well.”
Loud and clear
With Trading Standards ‘back on the map’, Herriman and others — including many of CTSI’s hard-working Lead Officers — have been pushed into the media spotlight to speak on TV and in the press about Trading Standards’ activities and concerns. What does that feel like? “It’s an incredible responsibility, but also a real privilege to talk about the work of the profession, because it all relies on what is being done on the ground,” Herriman says. “We’ve had to remind people of just how important Trading Standards is, and that’s easier when it can be linked to a particular issue, like scams or vapes. It helps people realise how important it is to have place-based enforcement activity going on at the local level. And the only way you can do that is through Trading Standards, because nobody else can do it.
“There is still a huge amount of work to do because we know that there are still capacity challenges within local authorities; but it feels like we have got some momentum behind us now, and I think that is the key message that I and others are getting across in those sorts of media engagements.”
Being able to argue for the importance of Trading Standards is only possible when those arguments are backed up by solid, undeniable evidence, Herriman adds. “I think, for a period of time, we were very focused on just putting the message out there about needing more capacity in local authorities for Trading Standards teams,” Herriman says. “That’s a critically important message, but we weren’t necessarily giving the evidence for why we needed those resources.
“By becoming policy-led, we’re identifying the evidence that justifies why the capacity is required. That’s how you influence policy and funding decisions in national and local government. For example, in relation to vapes, we saw an increase of between 4% to 8% of young people who were trying vapes, and that happened over the period of a year — and that was a scary statistic. By taking that evidence we were then able to build a narrative around it, and then gather more evidence. That’s what gets the media and public’s attention.
“You can’t argue with the evidence. That really puts politicians on the spot, and they have to respond to it. Particularly as we’re coming into a general election year, politicians are interested in what the public are
thinking locally. That enables us to put pressure on government to make the right decisions in relation to protecting local communities.”
Campaigning and Conference
Herriman cites CTSI’s successful call for a delay to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill as an example of its increased influence. “We formed a coalition and the Safeguarding Our Standards campaign which resonated, particularly among businesses. It was the responsible thing to do, and that was a good outcome, because it was good for consumers and for businesses at the end of the day.
“We also did some campaigning around Imperial Measures — we still haven’t had the outcome of that consultation yet, interestingly, but it all seems to have gone quiet on that front. That was driven by a particular doctrine coming out of government, in relation to Brexit and its supposed benefits, and it was completely unnecessary.”
Other highlights of the past 12 months have included the 2023 CTSI Conference in Birmingham. “It was just outstanding,” Herriman says. “We had more members, more younger members, and it was a more inclusive and diverse conference than ever. We had better discussions, better outcomes and it was financially more sustainable. There were step changes at every level of the conference. And the buzz around the place was just incredible.”
That renewed sense of purpose coincides with a growth in CTSI membership for the first time in five years. “There were some real challenges around the positioning of the Institute and whether people saw us as a professional body that they wanted to be a part of,” he says. “We’re going to increase the focus on drawing more new members from local authorities, but also from businesses and non-profit organisations, as well as the civil service. In 2023 we created a new membership section for the civil service, which is representative of the fact that we have members working in more diverse areas than ever. That needs to be reflected in the way that we’re governed and structured, because as a professional membership body, we need to be representative of where our members work, and we need to be able to support them in the delivery of their roles in relation to Trading Standards.”
Training has also been a big area of focus, with ongoing efforts to make the Trading Standards Professional qualification more appealing and flexible for prospective students: “We’ve looked at how the qualification can be modernised and importantly, how it can work alongside apprenticeship schemes, Herriman says. “We’ve gone through the process of aligning the Level 6 Trading Standards Professional qualification in England, and we’ve also been supporting apprenticeships for the Level 4 qualification in Scotland and Wales.
“That puts CTSI at the centre of all the conversations relating to entry into the Trading Standards profession, and progression and development within it. That leads us to something else I’m very proud of, which is the way we’ve been able to continue to embrace equality, diversity and inclusion as an Institute. It’s a continuous journey, which we will always be on, but it feels like we’re really starting to get some momentum.
“I’ve had some brilliant conversations with apprentices and trainees, and I think there is a recognition that as an Institute, we have become more progressive. That’s also reflected in conversations that we’re having with our Council and our branches. Over the last 12 months, we’ve had more interest from branches in setting up their own EDI networks and ambassadors. That’s really encouraging.”
Room for improvement
Not every aspect of the Trading Standards landscape is rosy however, and there remain critical concerns about funding and the political appetite for a robust regulatory and enforcement framework. Serious problems with the financial stability of councils across the country are putting more pressures on Trading Standards than ever, and an anti-regulation mindset persists in certain quarters — meaning there is no time for CTSI to rest on its laurels. “There’s a greater level of awareness in government of our role, otherwise you wouldn’t get the additional funding for vaping and tobacco enforcement — but I think they’re sticking plasters,” Herriman concedes.
“They’re not the systemic changes that we need to see. And that’s the issue. Yes, we have organisations that have been set up to deal with specific things, like OPSS, but none of that works unless you’ve got effective place-based regulation at the local level, protecting communities.
“National regulators need local delivery. If that’s cut, then you can’t do that work. I don’t think there’s enough of a recognition of that within government.
“Part of the challenge here is that we fundamentally take a different view of the world. We take a risk-based view, which is that consumers are exposed to harm, or businesses are exposed to risk, from products getting into the UK that are faulty, counterfeit, illicit or dangerous. There is undoubtedly a greater risk of that happening now and we’re seeing the evidence of that through the Online Marketplaces APPG project.
“It’s very clear that the risks are increasing to the public, and also for legitimate businesses. Our response to that is that things need to change within the system to mitigate that risk. We can look at non-legislative mechanisms like Consumer Codes and Alternative Dispute Resolution, which create more opportunities for consumers to get redress through different mechanisms. That’s better for consumers, undoubtedly, but it also demands that you have the right level of enforcement on the front line.
“We’ve got evidence for that from Northern Ireland, where there’s been investment in resource and capacity, albeit in the civil service, which is where Trading Standards sits there. They’ve been able to do more market surveillance, and therefore they can identify where the issues are, and they can then tackle those issues.
“The alternative is that you take a resource-constrained view, which is to look at how much money you’ve got, and then look at how much capacity you can put into the system. I think that is a short-sighted view of the world, and it’s not actually solving the problem.”
In closing, I ask Herriman what motivates him to get up on a cold, dark winter’s morning and head into the office. “The thing that drives me, as I think it drives everybody in the profession, is that really strong connection with social purpose,” he says.
“It feels as though what we do genuinely makes a difference. In all of our work, we are protecting people. That is what really connected me with CTSI when I came in, and it is reinforced when I meet people who are involved in the profession, because you hear about what they’re doing on the ground. That gives me a great sense of satisfaction and pride in what we’re supporting.”