UNISON report reveals trading standards cuts are putting public safety at risk

The number of trading standards officers have been cut by almost a quarter (23%) in the past six years, giving rogue traders free rein to scam the public says UNISON.

The findings are part of the UNISON Scotland’s latest survey – Trading Safety: a survey of trading standards staff – released today (Wednesday). The report is the latest in UNISON Scotland’s Damage series which looks at the impact of austerity on the country’s public services and the staff who deliver them.

Trading standards teams are an essential local government service protecting consumers, enforcing safety legislation and supporting legitimate business to ensure public safety. Trading Safety takes a closer look at the issues affecting staff in local authority trading standards teams. The survey reveals a dedicated group of workers who are struggling to deliver a high quality service.

Key findings from the survey show:

• Budgets have been cuts by 12% since 2012/13. An earlier report from the improvement service states that cuts amount to 21% “over the last five years”

• The number of trading standards officers has dropped by 23% since 2012/13. There have also been substantial job cuts for other roles in the teams

• This is an ageing workforce, experienced staff are retiring/being made redundant and fewer young people are getting the opportunity to start a career in trading standards meaning there will be a skills shortage in the future

• Brexit will increase workload substantially but the cuts continue

• 70% of respondents indicated that morale is low or very low in their teams and 78% stated that they do not expect it to improve in the next few years.

Trading standards officers play an essential role in public safety by ensuring the things we buy are safe, are in the correct amounts, are as described on the packaging, that price displays are fair and we are not overcharged. They also support businesses by ensuring that they aren’t undercut by fraudsters and those who don’t follow the rules. However, our members tell us they are struggling under the weight of the cuts to maintain a quality service with nearly half (47%) describing the cuts over the last five years as ‘severe’.

Trading standards teams have responded to the staff shortages in a number of ways. Members indicate that teams now struggle to undertake some of the specialist roles such as animal health. Cuts to travel budgets mean getting out and about is difficult, therefore their work is much more reactive rather than proactive – dealing with things that have gone wrong rather than preventing them – while some work, such as consumer advice at local authority level, has stopped altogether. Training budgets have also been restricted meaning that while dangers and crime are rapidly evolving trading standards teams are struggling to keep up.

Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “Despite trading standards teams carrying out the vital role of keeping people safe, the service has suffered severe cuts which has left staff under substantial pressure to try and maintain a quality service with less staff and resources. In the last six years alone, the number of trading standards officers has fallen by nearly a quarter – giving rogue traders free rein to scam citizens.

“Once again we are seeing a highly-dedicated workforce exhausted and demoralised by austerity and struggling to deal with the demands placed upon them.

“Cuts to trading standards hurt us all and it’s crucial this work is taken seriously. The focus must be on keeping people safe and the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to ensure the public are protected from financial and physical harm.”

ENDS

What our members said:

– I worry for the future of trading standards. I am currently researching alternative careers. I loved my job and still do enjoy many aspects of it but cuts mean it is harder to achieve anything meaningful and of worth. It is a service that is not missed until it is gone.

– In over 30 years of trading standards service I have never known morale to be so low.

– Trading standards are not able to perform their necessary functions as they should due to cuts to resources. Consumer protection is at an all time low.

– Colleagues concerned as to what the future holds.

– We can’t do the work we want to do and are trained to do.

– Trading standards have people who are great at their job and want to do the job but there are no resources to be able to do it. We are a vital service but so small that we get missed.

Notes to editors:

– You can find the full survey online at: http://www.unison-scotland.org/library/Trading-Safety-May-2018-final-version-.pdf

– To supplement the information given by members we also placed a freedom of information request with all local authorities.

For further information contact:Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, on 07958 122 409.