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Trading standards 'hit by cuts'

Trading standards in the UK have become weakened due to crippling budget cuts, a Government report has revealed.

The study, commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, outlined how trading standards departments across the country are suffering as they now operate with around half the number of staff they employed five years ago.

The findings, attributed mainly to budget cuts, reveal drastic changes to the way in which local authorities operate, with reduced portfolios meaning many areas have stopped initiatives such as checking for proof of age in shops.

Designed to explore the impact of budget cuts to local trading standards and test the efficiency of services across the country, the report said that changes had led to "a relatively weak, and probably diminishing, profile of trading standards, both within the public eye and within the local authority context".

The report detailed how there had been a shift from proactivity and prevention to a more reactive approach.

It said: "The tradition of routine inspections and sampling work to check compliance levels among businesses has largely given way to a work pattern that is much more driven by referred complaints from consumers and other intelligence reports."

Executive director of consumer rights website Which? Richard Lloyd said the report was extremely worrying.

He said: "Consumers and law abiding businesses need strong and effective local trading standards services to protect people from rogue traders and loan sharks.

"So it is extremely worrying that the Government's own research has found trading standards are being run down, losing vital knowledge and expertise, and that dodgy or illegal practices are on the rise in farms, factories, markets and shops.

"The Government must now set out how it will ensure consumers are properly protected, especially at a time when they have asked trading standards to do even more and take the lead in national consumer law enforcement."

But though the report acknowledged that in some cases a drop in regular inspections meant illegal practices had crept in, it also said many officers went above and beyond in their jobs.

The report said: " Several officers told us that they personally continued to make as many inspection visits as they could to farms, factories, markets and high street retail outlets; such was their belief in the value of proactive inspections as a means for maintaining compliance standards."

The report also highlighted the "sense of frustration" expressed by trading standards officers at being unable in the current financial climate to do more proactive surveillance work in order to maintain standards.

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