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Trading Standards Service Plan 2023 to 2024

9.0 Challenges

Trading Standards has to face the challenge of operating effectively in light of an evolving regulatory landscape and growing demands for service. Some of the main challenges are summarised below:

Food Standards Delivery Model

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is working to review the current food standards delivery model and introduce a new model that addresses the perceived shortcomings in the current system and supports Local Authorities in effectively targeting their resources for food standards controls. It is currently expected that Local Authories will start to transition to the new model from October 2023.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill

In April 2023, the Government published its long-awaited Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill which sets out the path ahead for consumer protection legislation. The Bill creates a number of new consumer protection rules and regimes that will affect Trading Standards, including a replacement for current unfair trading legislation and new rules around subscription traps and fake reviews. The new legislation could be in force in Autumn 2023.

Training Needs and Qualification Framework

There is a lack of qualified Trading Standards Officers both regionally and nationally. This is reflected in the fact that the Service was unable to fill a vacant Trading Standards Officers post, advertised on two separate occasions. This has resulted in the adoption of a 'grow your own' approach, with an apprentice now in post. In addition, the service is looking to train up both unqualified Enforcement Officers and currently each has completed stage 1 of the qualification framework. Whilst adding pressures in the short to medium term, this process is seen as vital to help future-proof service provision.

Scams Awareness

An ageing population means that there are more residents vulnerable to rogue traders and mass marketing scams. To raise awareness of these issues, the service has signed a partnership agreement with the National Scams Team to identify and support victims in Stockton-on-Tees and will continue to introduce No Cold Calling Zones in suitable locations throughout the Borough.

Financial Investigations

The service no longer has its own in-house Accredited Financial Investigator (AFI). However, in certain cases, it is important that action is taken to restrain and/or confiscate the assets of offenders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. As a result, available Accredited Financial Investigators from other local authorities and regulatory partners will be commissioned to undertake such work, as and when it is needed.

Brexit

Uncertainties following Brexit still remain. Whilst the UK formally left the EU on 31 January 2020 and an agreement was struck in December 2020, elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol have had to be renegotiated, which in turn will affect the rules governing the movement of goods and services to and from the EU.

Additional uncertainties also exist with regard to the status of retained EU laws, which were due to be scrapped by the end of 2023. This would have affected a significant raft of consumer protection legislation, particularly in the field of product safety and food standards. Whilst, this process has now been delayed, the future of many important pieces of consumer protection legislation remains unclear.