Trading standards body in court threat over cuts and statutory duties
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has warned councils to “think carefully about their statutory duties when making cuts – or risk being hauled before the courts”.
The CTSI’s comments came after Liverpool City Council agreed to conduct a more wide-ranging review of its trading standards function.
Stephanie Hudson, a former Liverpool employee backed by the CTSI, had, brought a legal challenge against the local authority after it reduced its trading standards officers from 19 to four.
Liverpool has now agreed to appoint an independent and professionally competent person to conduct a review, which will consider statutory and EU consumer protection duties as well as the government’s enforcement priorities.
According to the CTSI, it was the second time Liverpool had faced pressure to review its trading standards services.
Contempt of court proceedings were due to be held at the High Court in Manchester and were expected to focus on whether an earlier review was adequate.
The city council has not admitted any wrongdoing but did agree to hold a second review.
Research for the CTSI has previously found that the total GB budget for trading standards has fallen from £213m in 2009 to £124m and there has been a 53% cut in staff.
Leon Livermore, chief executive of CTSI, argued that it was not just statutory duties that placed obligations on councils.
He said: “Councils must also consider the Government’s enforcement priorities, the first of which focuses on consumer protection, doorstep crime, counterfeit goods and mis-selling by measurement.
“Rarely have we been able to find any reference to these trading standards duties being taken into account and it will be interesting to see Liverpool consider them.”
Jonathan Goulding, a barrister with Gough Square Chambers, said well-funded and well-staffed trading standards departments were essential to protecting consumers from the many unfair practices they faced.
He said: “It’s encouraging that the Liverpool review will consider consumer protection duties and it will be interesting to see the weight given to them in the exercise of decision making and the funding of essential services.”
Hudson, who has now left the trading standards profession, claimed that councils were making cuts with little regard to how they would discharge their duties.
She said: “Liverpool showed they have no knowledge or understanding of the value of trading standards, that’s very clear. The amount they spend on trading standards is very small, but its impact is quite immense.”