THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of failing to protect consumers from dodgy products after it emerged that the total annual spend on trading standards has fallen to around £2 per person.
A survey by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found that the total spend across Britain had slumped from £213m to £124m since 2009, while staffing levels declined 53 per cent over the same period.
The cuts came amid growing public anxiety over standards failures in areas ranging from vehicle emissions to fires in tumble dryers and hoverboards and horsemeat in food products for human consumption, which between them have imposed huge costs running into billions of pounds.
With some councils budgeting as little as £200,000 for the service, experts said that a single complex court prosecution was now beyond the financial reach of some trading standards teams.
Of the 122 trading standards departments in a CTSI survey, some 81 per cent admitted that cuts had affected their ability to protect consumers.
The CTSI’s chief executive Leon Livermore said: “We have a situation where trading standards teams in local councils are tasked with holding multimillion-pound firms to account, with just a handful of staff.
“This is in addition to their many other responsibilities in the community like catching rogue traders, preventing disease in the food chain and providing business support to help grow the economy.”
Mr Livermore added: “Spending so little on market surveillance and consumer protection, with an economy as large as ours, simply does not make sense but nobody expects a blank cheque.
“Instead we are calling for a government-led strategic restructure of trading standards services to make sure they can be the best they possibly can be.”
While the recent CTSI survey revealed that the national average for total trading standards spend is just £1.99 per person per year, in the figure the Yorkshire and the Humber region is slightly higher and stands at £2.20 per person per year.
The East of England came in with the lowest result at £1.46 per person per year.
Wales had the highest spend at £3.76.
Cardiff-based barrister Lee Reynolds, who specialises in consumer fields including doorstep crime, said: “I think there is a fear now, among trading standards teams, of the financial impact that losing one of these big cases could have.
“Some councils have undoubtedly taken the decision to massively reduce the number of cases they are bringing.”
National Trading Standards, which is funded by the Government, dealt with business and consumer issues totalling about £100m in the last year.
It was also involved in cases that saw prison sentences totalling 61 years imposed by the courts.
A Government spokesman said: “Local Trading Standards services are provided by councils and it is for them to allocate funding according to their priorities and needs in their area.”