8th July 2024

Opinion: A taste of things to come

CTSI’s Head of Policy and Campaigns shares her thoughts on the key priorities for the year ahead.

By Jessica Merryfield
CTSI Head of Policy & Campaigns
The work we do impacts the lives of humans, animals and society as a whole, across all aspects and stages of life

Those of you who already know me will know that I am passionate about the work of Trading Standards, and about representing all those who undertake that work. Having spent two decades in a variety of Trading Standards regulatory roles, in both the public and private sector, I know I am not alone in having this passion. I have been blessed to work with, and alongside, so many exceptional professionals in my career to date and I know this will continue. The variety and breadth of work we do is captured so well in the ‘Anything But Standard’ video, launched at CTSI Conference 2023, which also really showcases the dedication of those who do it.

Over the past year or so, there has been some excellent policy and campaign work by CTSI, and it is my aim to build on those solid foundations and continue the momentum kickstarted by the recently launched CTSI Manifesto.

Trading Standards is a unique and wonderful profession, not without challenges and complexities, but one that I truly believe would be missed by the public if it were not here. The work we do impacts the lives of humans, animals and society as a whole, across all aspects and stages of life. Our profession is even mentioned in the Bible – which, as a Christian, delights me. There are not many professions that can make these sorts of claims!

Times of change
Championing the Trading Standards workforce, encouraging inclusivity and diversity, and creating effective policies and campaigns in this space is one of the first areas I will be working on. From my time in the profession, I recognise that it has seen many changes over the past two decades – and that is before you consider several financial crises, Brexit, a global pandemic and global conflicts. All these things have impacted the work of Trading Standards professionals, with the knock-on effects on the global economy and supply chains being keenly felt by both businesses and consumers. What has been wonderful to note is the pragmatism, commitment and hard work undertaken by all Trading Standards professionals to provide solutions to the challenges faced; I have been very proud to be part of this profession and witness the dedication of colleagues over this period.

However, despite all this excellent work, it is disheartening to see funding to Trading Standards and staffing levels having been eroded to critically low levels. This is recognised and reflected in the CTSI Manifesto, and we are being vocal in our calls to build back Trading Standards services. To do so would benefit both consumers and law-abiding businesses, and support our local and national economy as well as our communities.

To do this, we need to ensure that we have new people entering the profession, that we have professionals fully reflecting the diverse communities and businesses we serve, and that we have enough experienced professionals to train them. Having been through the training process, receiving exceptional training and mentoring myself, and then trained and mentored others in turn, I understand and appreciate the value of investing in the pipeline of Trading Standards professionals. We need to encourage new talent into the profession, retain those already in the profession and look for ways to encourage the return of those who have left.

The world has changed, and we need to change with those times. We have seen an increase in funding from various government departments to support work at the ports and borders, which has helped deliver vital support to protect public health and safety, and to address consumer vulnerability. However, we also need to look more widely at the general funding and resourcing of Trading Standards to ensure it is sustainable and protected at a local level.

Leading the discussion
Another key area that I will be working on is the creation of CTSI policy and campaigning in food standards, one of CTSI’s identified seven ‘Policy Priorities and Opportunities’ areas. Some of you may already be aware of the CTSI Policy Paper on Vegan and Plant-based Foods, which was launched last year. The paper calls for legal definitions around non-defined terms like ‘vegan’ to ensure clarity for both businesses and consumers. It is an example of how we listened and responded to concerns raised by our members, undertook and collated the necessary research to create policies that are based on evidence, and then campaigned for the needed changes.

Looking at this policy in particular, campaigning by CTSI in this area has led to increased discussions, engagement, and action by key stakeholders across the food standards space. We have seen industry backing our calls for legal clarity over what ‘vegan’ means, as well as changes to industry guidance and consumer educational pieces. However, we must not rest on our laurels and CTSI will continue to campaign for a legal definition of what ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ foods are, to ensure these terms are legally protected, defined and that consumers are not misled when these terms are used on foods.

We will also continue to encourage and facilitate engagement with members to ensure we are capturing the key issues facing food standards. As an example, I am also aware of the need for a legal definition of ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ or ‘PPDS’ in the food standards space. This is currently missing in the food standards regulatory landscape and a legal definition would clarify interpretation, application and enforcement, especially in relation to Natasha’s Law.

CTSI is a member-led organisation; members are at the heart of all that we do. In my role, I will be aiming to meet as many of you as possible, from both the public and private sector, to listen to your thoughts and ideas for how we address the challenges we face. Using this, we will be creating policies and campaigns which truly reflect the issues seen. I look forward to meeting you!

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