This month CTSI welcomes two new Non-Executive Directors to its Board. They spoke to the Journal about the challenges the profession faces, and how they plan to bring their experience of working both within and outside trading standards to their new roles.
Adrian Simpson began his trading standards career with Consumer Direct before working as a TSO in three London Boroughs. Following stints as Operational Lead for CTSI’s Consumer Codes Scheme, he worked at the Home Insulation and Energy Contractors Scheme and at home improvement and energy dispute resolution specialist QASSS. He recently joined the British Retail Consortium (BRC) as Policy and Regulatory Lead for Consumer Products.
Ben Meredith’s career began as a TSO at Buckinghamshire & Surrey Trading Standards, and then at Hampshire Trading Standards where he served as Manager. He joined the Housing Ombudsman in January this year as Systemic Investigations Manager and has been a member of CTSI Council for seven years.
We began by talking about priorities; what do they each plan to focus the Board’s attention on? “I’d like to see CTSI reclaim its position as a voice of authority in consumer protection,” says Simpson. “I’d also like to ensure that there are plans for a sustainable profession.
“It’s no great secret that the trading standards profession is aging, and we need to make sure that in the future there will still be a profession for people to get involved with. We also need to make sure that CTSI is front-and-centre in shaping and leading all policy debates.”
Meredith agrees that CTSI has a part to play in supporting members struggling to do their jobs effectively against the backdrop of cuts.
“There is a need for Government to be clear what they want from trading standards,” he says. “We need to have a conversation about what the money that is actually allocated to services buys them versus what they want to achieve, and what we can do to shape our services to deliver the objectives they have.”
“Heads of service are constantly under pressure in terms of the various responsibilities they have,” he adds. “We need to look at where we can we help. I think more can be done to integrate CTSI into the service so that anyone working in trading standards can see us as a key port of call for support and advice.”
Communicating the benefits of CTSI membership are central to this, Meredith believes. “There is work we need to do around members understanding the value that CTSI has to offer,” he says. “I think over the past few years, we’ve lost a bit of our connection to our membership, and they don’t necessarily understand the value we can bring, whether that’s to individual members, heads of service, business members, or affiliates.
He also says there is more work to do to make CTSI membership inclusive. “That means equality and diversity in terms of the workforce, but also in terms of the roles within trading standards nowadays.
“To be a full member, you’ve got to be fully qualified, and you’ve got different voting rights to other members. Why would another member’s view be any less valuable than mine, purely because I happen to have been through the qualification? We need to be more inclusive in terms of the diverse roles people actually fulfil nowadays.”
Simpson and Meredith both have a great deal of experience in the world outside trading standards, in the home energy and retail sectors, and the property and housing sectors respectively. How do they plan to bring this experience to bear on their new roles?
“My most recent experience was at QASSS, which operates consumer codes and ADR schemes,” says Simpson. “In that capacity I’ve been a customer of CTSI, so I’ve experienced what it’s like to actually purchase services from CTSI. I’ve also been involved in many areas of the Institute. I was also a non-executive director of the National Home Improvement Council, and a CTSI Lead Officer for home improvement.
“I think it’s really important for CTSI to acknowledge that a lot of its members are now working in business as well, because consumer protection is also carried out by businesses, who stop unsafe goods getting onto the market in the first place.”
Meredith also feels he can bring fresh ways of thinking to CTSI. “The Ombudsman approach is focused on accountability and fairness, taking a collaborative approach to learning from disputes and improving standards in the sector. There are definitely lessons we can learn from that and I will obviously bring that thinking across to the Board.”
As the UK prepares to emerge from the COVID-inflicted rules and business practices that have been necessary over the past year, both Simpson and Meredith believe trading standards will have a crucial role to play in supporting businesses and consumers.
“COVID has undoubtedly had a huge effect on trading standards, with officers becoming involved in areas that are perhaps outside of their normal roles,” says Simpson.
“There are going to be lots of changes from that and also with the effects of Brexit. COVID recovery and Brexit are huge areas for trading standards and there’s a whole new raft of responsibilities coming in next year, around things like product safety for example.
“But there are ongoing things like doorstep crime and scams. Fraudsters have exploited COVID and that’s still going to be happening.”
“There are all sorts of new, weird and wonderful scenarios that will come about through increased e-commerce, and CTSI’s role is to help officers to make sure that they’re adequately trained and prepared for this new world.”
This can only happen effectively, Meredith believes, if trading standards works to gain the recognition it deserves. “We need to raise the profile of what we do,” he says. “We don’t have the platform that say, the fire service or the police have in terms of people generally understanding what we do.
“In part that’s because of the diversity of what we do; we enforce hundreds of pieces of legislation and as trading standards professionals we all do slightly different things. Trading standards can mean many things to many people depending on their experience of us.”
CTSI has a further vacancy on its Board; recruitment for that, along with recruitment of a new Chair, will be starting soon.