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Councils admit deep trading standards budget cuts placing consumers at risk

Local council budgets for implementing trading standards has fallen to just under £2 per person whilst staffing has also dropped by over 50%, prompting accusations that the government is failing to protect consumers and businesses.

Analysis by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found that total spend has dropped from £213m to £124m since 2009, with some cuts being so large that just one complex crown court prosecution is now beyond the reach of some local authorities’ trading standards teams. Deep cuts also mean that some local budgets have fallen below a mere £200,000.

Leon Livermore, chief executive of CTSI, said the current picture is trading standards teams in councils forced to hold multi-million-pound firms to account with “just a handful of staff”. Staffing numbers have plummeted sharply since 2009, by around 53%.

“This is in addition to their many other responsibilities in the community like catching rogue-traders, preventing disease in the food chain and providing business support to help grow the economy,” he added.

“Spending so little on market surveillance and consumer protection, with an economy as large as ours, simply does not make sense but nobody expects a blank cheque. We are calling for a government-led strategic restructure of trading standards services to make sure they can be the best they possibly can be.”

Livermore was also quoted as saying there are even more challenges ahead after a vote to leave the EU, potentially leading to continued austerity and “further funding reductions for local government”.

CTSI’s survey, which questioned all 192 trading standards teams in Great Britain and received answers from 122, revealed that over 80% of respondents admitted cuts had affected their ability to protect consumers.

Many also said the cuts can no longer be mitigated with efficiencies. Some legal experts believe they have led to a fall in prosecutions as a result.

Barrister Jonathan Goulding, for example, of London’s Gough Square Chambers, said often it translates into a choice between “a substantial case against a nationwide business or a number of smaller cases against local – including rogue – traders”.

Cardiff-based barrister Lee Reynolds added that some councils have also been pushed to “massively, massive reduce the number of cases they are bringing”, with some trading standards managers claiming that if they lose a case, they’re going to have to lose an officer.

Earlier this year, CTSI had already argued that the current system of local authority trading standards is “broken”, recommending that trading standards authorities pooled together to form larger units. But an LGA review into trading standards from January said there was “no appetite” amongst councillors and senior officers to see major changes to these services.


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(Top image credit: Devon County Council)


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