Business, Innovation and SkillsWritten evidence submitted by the Local Government Association

We are writing to you about the draft Consumer Rights Bill, and following the evidence presented by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, as part of your pre-legislative scrutiny inquiry.

As you will be aware, local trading standards services offer invaluable support to businesses, which can help them ensure that their products comply with the law. Their support means that the public can remain confident in the products they buy, and responsible businesses can continue to flourish. However, trading standards also have a leading role in ensuring that consumers are protected from unscrupulous traders. They rely heavily on complaints, intelligence and risk assessment to effectively target their limited resources at these persistent offenders. It is vital that any changes proposed under the draft Consumer Rights Bill do not undermine the ability of trading standards to carry out this important work, which protects the most vulnerable in our communities from exploitation.

Councils are the most transparent and accessible part of the public sector and are therefore fully aware of the importance of exercising powers of access in a fully accountable manner. Regulatory services are at the heart of the support that councils provide for local businesses and their approach aims to accommodate the working practices of businesses wherever possible. The LGA continues to promote the importance of advance notification of inspections when working with the vast majority of responsible businesses, however, there are instances where both consumers and businesses will want reassurance that council enforcement officers can access normal business activity in a timely fashion without tying their limited resource in red tape.

The LGA remains uneasy that there are some examples of how the restrictions on powers of access proposed under the draft Bill may place unnecessary restrictions on trading standards services trying to protect their communities.

Specifically, we would like to see reassurance within the draft legislation that court warrants will not be required when inspecting a business because there is evidence of a local or national risk that can reasonably be linked to a certain business type rather than to an individual business premises. In addition, we are also keen for confirmation that trading standards services will be able to continue to visit businesses classified as high risk, whether through the nature of their activity or business history rather than intelligence about a specific non-compliance. In both of these circumstances, trading standards would notify the business in advance where possible, however, this may not always be logistically possible or it may threaten to undermine the overarching aim of the visit.

We wanted to bring these concerns to your attention, given your pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Consumer Rights Bill. We hope you find this information of use when formulating your recommendations. Either ourselves, or LGA officers, would be happy to discuss further with you or your team, should that be of assistance.

Cllr Mehboob Khan
Chairman
LGA Safer and Stronger Communities Board
Cllr Nick Worth
Regulatory Champion
LGA Safer and Stronger Communities Board

23 October 2013

Prepared 20th December 2013