I am delighted to have recently joined CTSI as the new Director of Policy and Public Affairs. Right now, I have a steep, but very interesting, learning curve ahead of me as I get to understand some of the major issues facing the Trading Standards profession and more broadly, the consumer protection landscape. It is a fascinating area, and one of the attractions of this role and CTSI is the multiplicity of different issues it confronts.
My background is policy, campaigns and communications and I’ve worked for two national membership bodies. In my previous role at the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) as Director of External Affairs, where my remit was to build the voice and profile, and help to modernise the 160-year-old public health membership body.
Over seven years I helped to transform the profile of RSPH, largely by establishing evidence-based policies, building strategic partnerships and creatively campaigning to achieve changes to legislation and practice to improve the public’s health, across a range of subject areas. Successes included securing numerous Government commitments to tackle obesity, influencing legislation to address the harms from gambling, and influencing the Government’s White Paper and subsequent Online Harms Bill.
Moving across from the world of public health to trading standards and consumer protection, I am struck by the many similarities between the two areas.
Both have similar historic roots in Local Government, with much of the legislation that underpins each discipline originating during the Victorian age. Both encompass a wide spectrum of topics and accompanying this, a very complex stakeholder landscape – not just on specific issues, but the wider systems in which both operate. Like public health, trading standards has a natural home in Local Government, although the work cuts across many different Government departments. Both trading standards and public health have also faced significant funding cuts over the past decade. Such funding cuts are often false economies, as many of the (arguably avoidable) national calamities we have faced over recent years, ranging from the horsemeat scandal to foot-and-mouth, bear witness.
My arrival at CTSI is very timely. Many of the Government’s future priorities are predicated on a buoyant economy, thriving business sector and consumer confidence. Having an effective and supported Trading Standards profession will be critical in realising this vision.
In the week that I joined, the Government published its plan to reform competition and consumer protection laws. This included some welcome measures to strengthen national structures such as the Competition and Markets Authority – although it is of some concern that there was less detail on what support will be available at the local level.
Also published the same day as the proposed legislative reforms were the findings from the Government’s Consumer Protection study, which revealed the breath-taking financial costs of consumer detriment to wider society. At more than £50bn annually (not that far short of half the NHS annual budget) this is a stark reminder of why trading standards matters and why greater support is needed to ensure that consumers are protected and businesses get the right advice. Given that this detriment is likely to get worse in the years ahead, amplified by the cost-of-living crisis, greater support will be needed, particularly for our most vulnerable consumers.
My arrival at CTSI is also timely given the organisation’s bold 10-year Vision and Strategy which, amongst other priorities, includes an ambition for CTSI to remain a trusted voice and to develop evidence-based policies and campaigns.
Leading the conversation
Within that context, how do I hope to shape CTSI’s policy and public affairs work? In the short term I am really looking forward to working with the members to find out from them what they think are the priority issues for CTSI, and also how we can work together. I am keen for CTSI to be at the vanguard and to identify new and emerging issues as well as campaigning on key priorities that will benefit both consumers and business alike. At RSPH I successfully developed campaigns which were closely informed by members who also advocated for us, and hope that we can establish a similar modus operandi.
One of my first priorities will be to develop CTSI’s policy framework, which will be critical in helping us determine which areas we will prioritise and focus on. The result will be a number of broad thematic areas which will provide a clear narrative and will help communicate to key audiences including the media, stakeholders and public, what the Institute’s policy priorities are. Underneath each of these broad areas will be specific policy and campaigns activities.
Another important priority will be building the evidence base to support our policy and campaigns work. The views and expertise of our membership will be fundamentally important, as will our ability to call upon other sources of research, including input from expert stakeholders and the general public. In my previous role I focused on championing the public’s health – ensuring that much of what we did was not only supported by the evidence, but also had the voice of the public included. In developing CTSI as an independent voice for consumer protection it is important that where appropriate we also include the voice of the consumer. It is also vitally important that we make CTSI’s approach as engaging, creative and distinctive as possible.
In the longer term I hope that this will lead to greater awareness among members, Government, the media and wider stakeholders as to which policy priorities CTSI is focused on. Success would be for CTSI to be at the forefront of influencing and achieving changes to policy and practice which would benefit consumers, businesses and our professionals. Ultimately this will contribute towards supporting CTSI’s vision that the UK prospers economically through fair and safe trade.