Since joining CTSI in spring 2022 I have been overwhelmed by the sheer variety, complexity and abundance of issues that Trading Standards is involved with. And Trading Standards is not just some kind of passive bystander on these issues, but very much an active participant in making things happen. My main tasks for the year ahead are to build the voice of what our profession and Institute does, communicate the impact of our work and to lobby and influence for change. In order to achieve this we have to determine an initial set of policy priorities that can underpin our proactive campaign work.
Spreading the word
The good news, from a communications perspective at least, is that Trading Standards has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the issues we have a stake in. Many of these are part of the zeitgeist and therefore of interest to the media, to consumers and high up the political radar. Cost of living, Net Zero, levelling up, the digital economy, EU Law Reform – all of these are areas with which our profession is involved and where we have the credibility and legitimacy for our voice to be heard.
The bad news is that there are simply so many different issues that CTSI could proactively speak about that unless we prioritise, we will be in danger of appearing scattergun in our approach and flitting from issue to issue, without really getting to grips with the substance of anything. In order for CTSI and the Trading Standards profession to cut through, we are going to have to focus, initially at least, on a few key areas.
It will be impossible to satisfy everyone, as each of our 2,000 members have their own particular passions and opinions. Right now, CTSI doesn’t have any priorities for proactive policy and campaign work, so this will hopefully be a step forward. To help inform what those priorities should be, we recently conducted a fairly extensive membership survey. This is one of the tools that has helped us determine what the areas of focus are going to be.
A big caveat to this is that these are the views of a fairly small proportion of our current members. It is important that CTSI better understands more fully how to engage those who haven’t responded and who aren’t members, to ensure we start offering what many in the profession want. The responses were also very heavily tilted towards Local Authority Trading Standards services, and we are keen to get the views of people who work in other settings as well in the future – including businesses.
It was clear from our survey that there were some common themes and key areas that members want CTSI to have a more proactive voice on. The main areas included product safety; the cost of living; scams and doorstep crime; online marketplaces; and legal metrology.
In terms of emerging issues there were clear concerns around vaping – not just non-compliant products on the marketplace, but also the illegal sale and supply of vapes to young people. There were also significant comments about our work in relation to food standards and the importance of supporting animal welfare.
Focus for 2023
While we can’t do everything immediately, we will be working across several key areas in the months ahead. This will include forming small advisory groups from our membership and with input from external stakeholders on issues that we will be taking forward, and we will be in touch via our Head Office Update to keep you involved and updated.
Firstly, we will be looking at online marketplaces and what more can be done to mitigate risks to consumers. These include a lack of consumer protections when buying from third-party sellers, concerns about the safety of goods, and issues around counterfeiting. There are a number of forthcoming developments including the draft Competitions and Markets Bill, the OPSS Product Safety Review and the Online Safety Bill. The UK is also at risk of potentially falling behind the EU, which has a Digital Services Act which takes effect in spring 2023 and provides a new regulatory regime for digital gatekeepers.
The changing nature of our food supply chain will be the focus of another key project, which will cover food standards and animal welfare issues. Recent shocks to our supply chain from Brexit, COVID and the war in Ukraine have had a significant impact, leading to shortages and potential risks from poor quality, adulterated and illegal substitutes entering the market. We will be setting out the standards expected in food production and the need for proper levels of enforcement across all elements of the supply chain.
Another area CTSI will be seeking to provide some policy leadership in relates to the growing concerns around vaping and e-cigarettes. While acknowledging the importance of these products as smoking cessation tools, there are a number of issues CTSI will seek to take forward. Data from the MHRA suggests the number of new product notifications has grown exponentially in the past couple of years and as many as 3 million vapes are binned every week!
Data from local Trading Standards teams also shows a significant increase in the reporting of underage vape sales between 2021 and 2022. While absolute numbers remain low, May 2021 and July 2022 intelligence logs increased by 1,958% and complaints reported to Trading Standards services via Citizens Advice increased by 1,367%.
The cost-of-living crisis is putting pressure on consumers to save money wherever possible. Consumers are buying second-hand goods rather than new to save money, along with ordering through online marketplaces, and this can present issues with products not meeting the necessary safety requirements. CTSI will examine changes to consumer buying habits due to the cost-of-living crisis and will be undertaking a place-based educational campaign to monitor attitudes towards product safety.
We will also be exploring the impact of housing reform and the Government’s Net Zero commitments, with a particular focus on society’s most vulnerable. If The Decent Homes Standard and the Net Zero commitments are to become a reality, significant remedial work will need to be undertaken on homes across the UK. This would mean a commitment to install around 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. With a shortage of good contractors and construction products these initiatives may be blighted with a surge in rogue traders and doorstep crime.
We will be examining some of the current workforce challenges around legal metrology, including staffing and inspection levels and also looking ahead at future innovations in legal metrology, and how vitally important this work is in underpinning consumer confidence in business and wider society.
Finally we will continue to take forward our Safeguarding Our Standards campaign, in collaboration with our coalition partners, to call for a rethink of the Retained EU Law Bill.
The policy priorities mapped out above are just the start – and we hope to explore other areas that emerge as opportunities arise. With the support and regular engagement of our members I am sure that we can start punching above our weight and finally get the recognition that our profession deserves.