When I joined East Sussex Consumer Protection Department in 1974, straight from school, I did not really understand what the job involved. It did sound interesting, involving going out and about as well as office work and I was not good enough to be an airline pilot. I think I would say that I still can’t tell you what Trading Standards is all about.
I have worked in Trading Standards all my career, in local government, for a national retailer and as a consultant. I have been so lucky, and I think this experience allows me to understand the job, and more importantly the law, from all angles and as a pragmatist.
I would summarise the work of Trading Standards as being about fairness in the marketplace. Our strength is that we can turn our hands to anything and we are the go-to service when local authorities need to deal with a crisis. I think our strength can also be our weakness because local authorities clearly don’t understand what they are losing when they cut down on Trading Standards resources.
I joined the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration as soon as I qualified as a Weights and Measures Inspector (old-style qualification, me) and have been a member ever since. Actually, that is not quite true; I had to leave the Institute when I became a consultant because people outside local government weren’t allowed in then, nor were consumer advice and consumer education professionals – the Institute was missing so much talent! It was then that I realised how important the Institute was to me.
CTSI membership is, in my opinion, so important for anyone working in the field of consumer affairs or consumer protection. It is too easy to see our sub as just being about an occasional magazine and an opportunity to attend an annual conference, but it is so much more. I have had the pleasure, through my work, of seeing a lot more of CTSI and this included three years as a Board member. Membership supports the representation of the profession at the highest level, as well as being a source of information and training. CTSI really is respected for its expertise and practical understanding of the law and policy.
I became one of the Lead Officers for Fair Trading Civil Law back in 2013, after I had written the Consumer Contracts Regulations guidance for Business Companion. It is a role I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in a particular subject area. As a Lead Officer you can influence CTSI and government policy and, by doing so, learn more about your law and yourself.
You will learn from working with other Lead Officers; we all think our specialism is the most important area and it has been said that Lead Officer meetings are just like herding cats. But don’t be put off, and don’t be afraid of working with people who you see as experts. You will learn from them, and even experts (I hate being called that) don’t always know the answers and need someone to bounce ideas off.
If you are a manager, don’t stand in the way of one of your staff becoming a Lead Officer – they are getting so much free personal and professional development which must benefit your service when they return to the office.
So, as I hang up my law books, all I can say is that I will miss being a Lead Officer. Future changes make me think about whether I should do an Elton John and make a comeback, but I won’t. I will miss Trading Standards, but it will be good to no longer be held personally responsible for (some, not all) double glazing contracts being exempt from cancellation rights – although I have failed in my mission to get the regulations changed.
Keep up the good work and look after us pensioners; I think I might now be classed as vulnerable!