Cuts put young people at risk on bonfire night, says UNISON

Remembering the fireworks code won’t be enough to protect children and young people from injury this Bonfire Night, UNISON warned today.

Massive cuts to trading standards budgets, as a result of the government’s austerity agenda, have seen the total number of age-restricted test purchases for goods, including fireworks, drop by a quarter, with two thirds of councils in Great Britain having reduced the number they do.

The union is warning that these ‘invisible cuts’ – which amount to an 11% fall in trading standards budgets between 2009/10 and 2011/12 – will only become obvious when it is too late and someone has been seriously hurt.

Age restricted test purchases involve sending volunteer children into shops to buy fireworks. They are carried out to discover traders who fail to prevent young people from buying dangerous or harmful goods, such as alcohol and tobacco, solvents, knives and fireworks.

The shocking figures emerged as part of The Damage, the union’s far-reaching investigation into the impact the government’s austerity measures are having across local public services.

Helga Pile, UNISON national officer said:

“We’re concerned that – thanks to these enormous trading standards cuts – the fireworks code won’t be enough to protect children and young people from injury as Bonfire Night approaches.

“Our investigation paints a really worrying picture of reductions in trading standards services which, by and large, protect the public without them even knowing.

“It’s against the law to sell fireworks to under-18s, but if shops don’t carry out proper ID checks, many can slip through the net. Age-restricted test purchases are there to ensure that shopkeepers are following the law, and not selling dangerous goods to young people.

“Budget cuts are severely limiting the ability of trading standards to do this, and we are concerned the real impact will not be felt until someone is seriously hurt.

“The sale of these products is prohibited for good reason – it keeps young people safe.”

The government stopped collecting information on fireworks related injuries for Great Britain in 2005, when more than half of injuries happened at home or at a private party. The union warned that as council’s budgets are squeezed, and local displays are cancelled, young people might be tempted to purchase and use fireworks themselves.



Budget cuts

The average budgeted spending on trading standards services per head of population across Great Britain fell from £3.82 per head in 2009/10 to £3.40 per head in 2011/12 – a cut to budgeted spending of 11% over the two years. Only 2% of the cut took place in the first year with the bulk – 9% – falling in the second year. A breakdown of regional cuts can be found below: AGE RESTRICTED TEST PURCHASES Region/country % Change 2009-10 to 2011-12 Eastern –53% Yorkshire & Humberside –51% East Midlands –42% South West –40% Wales –34% Scotland –22% West Midlands –21% South East –15% Greater London –11% North East –9% North West +13%