"Con Men have never had it so good". Harsh words from the Trading Standards Institute.
The recession is a breeding ground for scammers. Con men take advantage of people’s hard personal economic reality and fake jobs, houses and advice scams are becoming more and more prevalent. In such times then, it would seem churlish of the Government to cut funding to Trading Standards teams across the country at the same time as trying to fundamentally change the system. But that is exactly what they are proposing to do.
Currently, each local authority has its own trading standards team, overseen by the national Trading Standards Institute. Now, the launch of the eagerly awaited Department for Business Innovation and Skills ‘Empowering and protecting consumers’ consultation’ on Tuesday, proposes initiatives throughout the consumer protection landscape - from consumer information, advice and education to self-regulation and co-regulation through to consumer advocacy and enforcement.
Ed Davey, MP, said: “There is currently a bewildering array of public, private and voluntary bodies with overlapping responsibilities. The Government’s prime objective is to empower consumers to make wise decisions when purchasing goods and services.” He went on to say that ‘almost all’ Government spending is to be directed into Citizens’ Advice and Trading Standards, the two most well-recognised avenues of assistance for consumers in the UK today.
Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of Trading Standards Institute, described it as a “positive step” and said “It puts great reliance on the front line of Trading Standards working with front line of Citizens’ Advice as partners.”
The need for change was highlighted by a National Audit Office report last week, which concluded that the way BIS, OFT and local authority trading standards are arranged does not offer value for money nor a joined-up service. Ed Davey went on to say that he envisaged “greater collaboration, with regional investigative teams supporting the smaller authorities and greater flexibility over who brings individual cases. These will be backed up by specialist national squads, located around the country, looking after the most complex cases in particular fields such as unfair contract terms or internet enforcement."
So Trading Standards are to have (nearly) all the money, and develop crack national and specialist squads to swoop in on more widespread scams, like the Council Tax rebate one, perhaps, which is currently doing an extended tour of cities in the UK. It all sounds smashing, apart from one small problem.
Annual funding for Trading Standards is set to fall from £247 million in 2009/2010 to between £140 to £170 million by 2014. Which means that trading standards are supposed to take on more responsibility, in a time of greater need, with less money. As Ron Gainsford himself reportedly put it “How can we see financing of £247million reduced to £140million without that hurting and hurting significantly?"
And is cutting funding to consumer champions* now a good idea? Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens’ Advice said that, in today’s harsh economic times, “conmen have never had it so good”.
“The current economic recession has provided rogue traders with opportunities to make money out of desperate consumers who are seeking to manage their restricted finances” she added.
So which variable is going to have to give here? Will we end up with lower levels of consumer protection or more Government money? What do you think...
* Bitterwallet are clearly consumer champions. But we don’t get any Government funding. Which is a shame.