Budget pressures are forcing a number of trading standards services across Great Britain to axe vital work on counterfeit and intellectual property crime, along with age restricted sales.
The 2016 Workforce Survey, published by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) reveals that “many” trading standards services have “suffered further significant losses,” in the past year, with 81% saying that recent budget cuts have impacted their ability to protect consumers.
According to the survey of 122 services, staff levels have fallen by a further 12% since 2014. This is on top of the 45% drop identified over the previous five years.
The total spend on local authority trading standards services has fallen to an estimated £124m, down from £213m just seven years ago in 2009.
This means that trading standards now costs an average of £1.99 per person per year – less than the cost of some Sunday newspapers, the CTSI said.
The financial strain is prompting a number of services to stop vital work, with 34 services saying that they will stop providing consumer advice. Nine services also said they would stop work on intellectual property, while seven said that work focusing on age restricted sales would be stopped.
The funding deficit is also prompting many services to stop pursuing complex crown court prosecutions against criminals and rouge traders.
The CTSI said the government was “failing to adequately protect consumers and honest businesses.”
Leon Livermore, chief executive of CTSI, said: “We have a situation where trading standards teams in local councils are tasked with holding multi-million-pound firms to account, with just a handful of staff.
“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.
“Spending so little on market surveillance and consumer protection, with an economy as large as ours, simply does not make sense.”
The institute is calling for a government-led strategic restructure of trading standards services, adding that Britain’s exit from the European Union may mean further pressure on budgets.
“There are more challenges ahead, as the economic impact of the potential exit from the EU points to a continued period of austerity and further funding reductions for local government,” Livermore added.