The inextricable link between consumer protection and economic growth cannot be ignored as we move into the first 100 days of a new government.
Consumers fuel economic expansion in the UK, yet consumer education and protection is often too low on the agenda and funding is frequently side-lined to projects with more outwardly visible benefits. Recent figures from the National Audit Office indicate that local authority budgets are being cut across the board and TSI’s workforce survey demonstrates that trading standards has seen an average of 40% budget and 50% staff reductions across the history of this coalition. As local authority funding is stretched, TSI would like to see the new government rethink its funding strategy to consider the overall community impact of central funding decisions
We remain concerned that many consumers, especially those in vulnerable groups, frequently fall foul of the tricks of rogue traders and scams. Shockingly, in at least one local authority we are aware that every day they receive a report of someone losing their whole life savings through a scam or door step crime. Research has shown that for the frailest members of our society, enforcement is the only way to tackle the estimated £10bn per year that consumers lose through this kind of fraudulent activity. In light of such figures, TSI wants to see further resources allocated to consumer education and enforcement projects in order to tackle criminal activity and help all consumers better understand their rights.
Finally, TSI would like to see recognition from the government about the role that trading standards plays in tackling public health issues. From combating underage sales to regulating the sale of faulty and hazardous electrical goods, illicit tobacco and fake alcohol, trading standards has a vital role to play in maintaining the health of the nation – especially in this period of economic austerity. Figures indicate that almost 600 UK children take up smoking every day, a habit that can ultimately take 10 years off their lives. By regulating point of sales access to tobacco products, trading standards is helping fight this growing public health crisis. Furthermore, with money stretched, consumers, especially the young, are always looking for the best value products and cheap electrical goods, illicit alcohol and counterfeit cigarettes sold at reduced costs are often an attractive option. Without effective enforcement to combat the sale of these products, consumers are being put at significant, sometimes deadly, risk. As the new government sets out their policies we would like to see recognition of the crucial frontline work trading standards conducts in this area.
We ask the government to create policy proposals to tackle the problem of diminished funds and increased resource requirements across local authorities. Furthermore we invite the new government to actively engage with TSI, encouraging them to meet with us to hear our proposals for new sustainable solutions, solutions that are effective amid the resource constraints facing all local authority trading standards services.