Here’s a story that will probably come as little surprise to many of us reading this. A story was published on the ITV News website on Sunday, which claims that budget cuts have whittled away the effectiveness and power of the quango that is Trading Standards. I can almost here a collective “no s**t Sherlock!” from you all. But here’s the story anyway:

The UK’s Trading Standards institute are struggling to do “proactive surveillance work in order to maintain standards” after being hard-hit by budget cuts, according to the findings of a Government report released today.

Details of the report reveal drastic changes to the way in which local authorities operate has led to reduced portfolios of responsibilities and trading standards departments across the country being operated with half the number of staff compared to five years ago.

One example of the effects of the the budget cuts outlined in the report, commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, is that many councils have stopped initiatives such as checking for proof of age in shops.

The report said: “The tradition of routine inspections and sampling work to check compliance levels among businesses has largely given way to a work pattern that is much more driven by referred complaints from consumers and other intelligence reports.”

The switch from a proactive and preventative approach, which was previously taken by Trading Standards, to a more reactive approach has been viewed as concerning by one consumer watchdog.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Consumers and law abiding businesses need strong and effective local trading standards services to protect people from rogue traders and loan sharks.

“So it is extremely worrying that the Government’s own research has found trading standards are being run down, losing vital knowledge and expertise, and that dodgy or illegal practices are on the rise in farms, factories, markets and shops.”

Click here to see the ITV News report

Something we already knew

I read this report, and how the Government had carried out their own research into Trading Standards, and I got the feeling that they could have saved themselves a lot of time and money by just going to business, including our own industry, and asking their thoughts and opinions. Of course that is not how that system works, and government has to spend money to be able to tell us what we all thought in the first place, so that it’s official.

But if the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, was to come to our industry and ask us our honest opinions of Trading Standards, I’m sure many of us would tell him that it’s a body with absolutely no teeth, no power and no fear-factor. They don’t enforce any laws they’re supposed to. They rely on people telling them when things are going wrong, just for nothing serious to happen afterwards. Do we really think they’re going to enforce the new laws I wrote about last week about the false advertising of A rated glass? No, we don’t.

Is it time for a new body? I’d say no. Why? Because do any industry bodies really work that well? How many times have you heard of our industry bodies carrying out effective, lethal action on rogue companies? Other than banking fines, I can’t think of many other strong industry bodies handing out the punishments.

What do you think? Should Trading Standards be scrapped? Does it just need overhauling? Should there be a new way trade industries are observed? All comments welcome in the section below.

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