Drastic cuts to Trading Standards budgets are likely to hinder enforcement of the tobacco display ban in small stores next year, and could allow legitimate retailers’ trade to be eroded further by irresponsible and illicit traders.

According to new figures from the Trading Standard’s 2014 workforce survey, real term budgets have fallen by an average of 30.6% - equivalent to an average fall of £362,802 per authority between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

The number of full-time trading standards officers has also dropped sharply.

The situation is expected to worsen over the next couple of years, with average budgets in 2016 expected to be down 39.9% from 2010, equivalent to £489,722 less per authority.

Rather than enforcing the display ban regulations, Trading Standards services are likely to focus their energies and funds on providing compliance advice and guidance, the Trading Standards Institute’s joint lead officer for health, Jane MacGregor, told Convenience Store.

“This support will focus first on the provision of advice and guidance and then, where appropriate, fund compliance monitoring. Locally, it will be a matter for the trading standards service to determine whether or not this is required,” she added.

The cuts are also prompting Trading Standards authorities to scrutinise spending on under-age sales work.

CRA 2014 Responsible Retailing Award winner Bay Bashir said the timing of cuts was “terrible”. The Middlesbrough retailer added: “With the display ban being enforced next year I can’t think of a worse time for the funding to be cut,” he said.

“Not only will it be far more challenging for them to police the ban, but cuts to test purchasing programmes could mean more young people getting hold of products they shouldn’t.”

Funding is determined by local authorities, which in turn have suffered budget cuts from central government.