WORCESTERSHIRE could become a target for criminals and rogue traders if continued budget cuts lead to the failure of the county’s Trading Standards service.
Steve Jorden, head of Worcestershire Regulatory Services, warned cutting too deep into the Trading Standards budget risked leaving staff unable to protect vulnerable residents and legitimate businesses.
Mr Jorden said not only would Worcestershire be seen as a ‘soft touch’ which would increase illegal activity, but there were also implications for food safety and they would be unable to respond to outbreaks of animal disease, such as Foot and Mouth.
Worcestershire County Council is considering cutting its contribution to Trading Standards from just over £1million in the current financial year to £265,000 by 2016/17. However £187,000 of the total would go on overheads and Mr Jorden said it was difficult to see how much actual service the council would get for its money.
“My own view is we are at tipping point in terms of our budget.” he told a meeting of Worcestershire County Council’s Economy, Environment and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Panel.
“It’s easy to forget the breadth and depth Trading Standards has and the impact that has on people’s lives.
“Enforcement has to be done properly it can’t be something you cut corners on.”
Mr Jorden added the scale of the planned cuts would inevitably lead to job losses. Staff numbers have already reduced from about 60 in 2006/07 to around 15, while the service has already stopped helping consumers seek redress when they are in dispute with a firm.
Trading Standards is part of Worcestershire Regulatory Services which is also facing budget cuts threatening a range of services from dog wardens to pest control.
Rachel Hill, who represents the county council on the regulatory services management board, said they were aware of the risks and were discussing ways forward. A commercial partner is currently being sought to help support the service and increase the income it can generate while they were also looking at ways of reducing overheads to make the savings and so more money could be directed towards the frontline.
She said the £265,000 figure was only the net budget and it may be possible to source other money from elsewhere.
“Discussions are taking place and include consideration of the risk. Some of those are risks to the consumer and vulnerable adults in the county, some are reputational and some are risks to the county council because if funding goes up then that has to be found from elsewhere.” she said.
“Protecting consumers from the worst offenders remains our aim.”