Friday, 8 June 2012

Stepping Back

Seems strange to read of my 'retirement' but I'm getting used to doing so. A TSI press release was published a couple of weeks ago (see followed by the advertisement for my successor in our TS Today monthly publication and this morning I've just seen a piece in the Municipal Journal for 7 June. Recognised the photo! Although it will be another 10 months before I finally 'step back' (my preferred term) from my CEO role with TSI time already feels as if it is racing. Still so much to do and achieve and still so many ambitions for TSI, Trading Standards and me. A young 61 maybe (??) but with much unfinished business in support of my often brilliant trading standards peers and consumers and business too. Our TSI Annual Conference is however almost upon us, 26-28 June in Manchester, and I am conscious that this will be my last at the TSI executive helm. As always I am relishing the Conference occasion and the TSI team has put together the sort of wonderful show trading standards and our partners need and deserve. Hoping to see many of you in Manchester. Fabulous venue, fantastic city.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Red Tape Challenge - Again

If you are in trading standards or another of the 'regulatory' (not a descriptor I am at all fond of but central and local government seem to insist?!) or public protection professions you get used to but no less weary of being described by politicians and similarly slavishly by their officials as a 'burden' on business. There is always the occasional and convenient anecdote available to illustrate this of course which feeds the policy by anecdote appetite but does little to paint the real picture. Trading standards has been a 'better regulation' profession long before it became a soundbite for politicians many of whom had been party to the imposition of red tape burdens in the first place as making new legislation too often has been the response to any new malpractice etc. We invented the 'home authority' principle which businesses of all sizes have found so supportive for 40 years and which Government and Parliament have since extended to the 'primary authority' principle in tandem. Good. Some rules can be daft and no longer fit with our modern needs. Why would you want to impose controls on the sale of chocolate liqueurs or Christmas crackers? So when Vince Cable made his announcement yesterday that the Red Tape Challenge is to see 160 regulations scrapped in the retail sector I raised another weary and muted cheer but with a resigned eye to looking for his applause of the burdens that my trading standards peers lift from small, medium and big business rather than impose. One day perhaps......although to be fair he has said that we are the most important front line service together with CAB in the entire consumer landscape so that gives us hope!

Monday, 28 February 2011

Olympics need trading standards

The 2012 Olympics. A big thing for trading standards. Today I chaired a meeting of trading standards colleagues from the London councils and from local authorities outside of London who are hosting events.

Big concerns about the lack of resources to tackle the counterfeiters, ticket touts and other rogues who will look to hijack the Olympic Games opportunity to rip off consumers, UK and overseas visitors, and leave a bad taste in the mouths of those who will be here to enjoy the spectacle and the experience.

The good thing is that I can see the professionalism and resolve of trading standards practitioners kicking in. The bad thing is that they need much more real help from central and local government and from the Olympic authorities and business to be able to keep the Olympic parks and the hinterland fair and clean of consumer crime. I shall be writing to Ministers and others to press the case even at this late hour.

Change Happens

So much happening in the trading standards arena that I can hardly draw breath.

The BIS consumer landscape review, the planned abolition of the OFT, Consumer Focus and more, the suggested centralising of enforcement by the Food Standards Agency, the creation of the new Financial Conduct Authority and the possible transfer of consumer credit regulation to Canary Wharf from the OFT.....are all but part of the turbulence we currently are navigating.

I was on Radio 4 You and Yours today. I was asked about the changes I had seen in my 40 plus years in trading standards and consumer affairs. There were many of course and setting up the OFT in 1973 was a big one. Now that is to go and I made the point that the changes being condensed into these past months and the next two years will more than outpace those of the previous 40.

At the same time my trading standards colleagues across the country are having to cope with increasing demand alongside decreasing capacity as funding cuts of 40% start to bite. Their will to win however remains undaunted and they will look to new ways to support the consumers and businesses that need them.
By the way - the Financial Conduct Authority was to be the Consumer Protection and Markets Authority. A pity somebody changed their mind because the 'consumer' word should be there!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Trading standards and wealth creation

Today's last quarter report on the state of the UK economy has obviously raised eyebrows here and overseas at our disappointing performance. The Chancellor apparently blamed the bad weather 17 times in a lunchtime interview. The same snow and ice doesn't seem to have hurt the German economy though? We should all be worried at this lack of growth because it hurts us all.

I've always said that trading standards is part of wealth creation in its support for business, consumers and therefore the economy. News stories like today's throw up all sorts of mind blowing statistics. For example UK manufacturing grew in the last quarter by 3.3%. I thought 'great' until the commentators deflated that little bit of good news by telling us that manufacturing only accounts for 12% of GDP. Only 12% which means 88% is made up of non manufacturing service industries etc.

I knew the industrial revolution was long behind us but that 12% still surprised me. I wonder what the German or French figures are? Must find out.

FSA Chief seeks new consumer safeguards

Today's FT carried the heading 'FSA chief seeks new consumer safeguards'. The pink newspaper is always worth a look but never more so than when it talks 'consumer protection' and I was certainly drawn to its headline this morning. I'm sure Lord Turner's remarks and timely interest in consumer protection is not unconnected with the anticipated relocation of consumer credit regulation from the OFT to the new FSA, Financial Services Authority, successor body (or one of them) the Consumer Protection and Markets Authority, CPMA.

The tried and trusted Consumer Credit Act looks likely to give way to a new Financial Services Act. Canary Wharf has never been what I would call close to front line consumers and nor to front line trading standards. In the new world of the CPMA and the already up and running Consumer Financial Education Board I very much hope that those bodies and people can relate to ordinary consumers and even trading standards officers. The lifts in Canary Wharf can quickly get you down from a great height to ground level. That is where consumer credit controls and enforcement against the terror of loan sharks have to be real.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Consumer Direct onwards

I've been looking at 'The Citizen' news journal published by Citizen's Advice. Glad to see it led by a foreword they kindly asked me to write. Its inclusion helps to symbolise the emerging importance of the new and ever stronger relationship that will exist between trading standards and Trading Standards Institute with Citizen's Advice and CABx together with Citizen's Advice Scotland.

This is the new world being prompted by the 'consumer landscape' proposals of Vince Cable and his BIS team. First we need to secure the future of the successor service that CAB will have to construct from Consumer Direct. This has become part of the backbone of trading standards and cannot be lost.

It is clear to me though that from the top down Citizen's Advice and CAS are as determined as we are to see an even better successor in place by April 2012 latest. The new chief executives of both organisations and their teams continue to impress and that was reinforced when I met again with Gillian Guy at Citizen's Advice yesterday. She clearly has all the right qualities to lead her organisation into its extended future and also to help lead their new partnership with trading standards.