Trading standards officers protect all of us

Trading standards officers play a vital role in protecting all of us when we are shopping, both online and in our local high streets.

They guard against exploding halogen heaters, enforce guidance on toys that could be dangerous to toddlers, and crack down on retailers selling make-up containing toxic ingredients that cause permanent scarring.

And their presence when we buy our presents is never more evident than in the run-up to the festive season.

So I was completely shocked this week at the news that some councils have been forced to slash the number of trading standards officers.

Government cuts of £46m have caused some authorities to reduce the number of test purchases by an enormous 25% over the past three years.

Without the threat of regular test purchases acting as a deterrent, there is a real fear that underhanded traders will be emboldened. Slip-ups through lack of vigilance or inexperienced staff are more likely to go undetected.

Just as disturbing are the reports that some local authorities are now relying on tip-offs from the general public to catch unscrupulous businesses selling alcohol to children.

We are all aware of the damage that underage drinking can cause to young people and their families, and it would be a tragedy if the progress that has been made in combating this problem is being needlessly undermined by this government’s austerity agenda.

With internet scams becoming more sophisticated and more unsafe electrical products being imported, the need for robust trading standards has never been so great.

Councils must be given the resources to keep rogue retailers in check.

This is why our union is calling for a commitment from the government to ensure that local authorities have the funding, skills and expertise to adequately monitor the goods that we buy every day, and the resources to prosecute people and companies who shamelessly rip-off consumers or sell dangerous products.

The news last week that just 16 people have been prosecuted for selling underage alcohol to children in the past three years must be a wake up call that cutting budgets just for the sake of it is having serious and dangerous consequences.

Trading standards has a vital role to play protecting every local community.

If the horse meat scandal taught us anything, it’s that the importance of having robust trading standards and a budget for proper sampling and test purchases cannot be underestimated.