I am happy to be posting my first guest post by another Trading Standards Officer.
They have asked to remain anonymous. I have re-written the article so that it resembles my style of writing rather than theirs (to make it more likely they stay anonymous). They have of course approved the final version below.
I work for one of the largest Trading Standards departments in the UK. Compared to other departments around us we have always been seen as one that is innovative and one that other departments could ask for help – this was primarily because of the number of staff we had and their skills/expertise. We could take on big and complex jobs and it was a great place to work.
Over the last few years that all has changed. Due to severe budget cuts, we have gone from being a large department which can deal with most things that came our way to one that has shrunk rapidly, is losing expertise at an alarming rate and is now looking at things in a commercial way.
The sad thing is I know many of the smaller departments have been hit much worse – some to the extent that they are now almost useless.
The purpose of this article is to highlight, as the heading suggests, mass exodus from my department – but I will address some of the other issues I have mentioned.
Commercialism – having worked for both public and private sector there is definitely a difference in the way things are done. The focus is different. It is difficult to explain but there is a different ethos in the public sector. The aim is not to make money but to obtain the best result (no matter what it is you are doing).
Because of budget cuts we are now looking at generating as much income as we can – this means stopping a lot of free services that we used to offer (e.g. advising consumers) and charging for things (e.g. business advice).
The problem with this is – where is the focus of the department – are we now going to prioritise advising a business who is paying us over a business who is breaking the law and needs to be prosecuted?
I am sure there needs to be a balance as we do need to do both – at the end of the day businesses pay their business rates and should expect some free help.
The bottom line is that Trading Standards departments should be properly funded and should not have to make these kinds of decisions.
Skills, expertise and experience – this is a real worry for me. We have lost a huge amount of staff over the past 4 years – many of them were experts in their fields. People with 20, 30 or even 40 year’s experience. Experience is difficult to replace when the old guard are all being forced to retired.
Management – we have lost a lot of managers. The public love it. But all of that work has been given to officers that were previously front line. So all that is happening is the work is still being done but by lower paid people who are now doing less frontline work.
Mass exodus – so coming to the point of my article. What do I mean by mass exodus?
Well a few years ago our department had many people that racked up 30-40 years and retired. In fact many of these types were made redundant a few years ago. But what I am saying is that generally the job was such that people stayed for many years.
What worries me now is that whenever there is a sniff of voluntary redundancy (due to more budget cuts) people are queuing up to leave.
Even more worrying is that we have recently had quite a few people in their 30’s and 40’s leaving for other jobs. These people are, or were, the future of our department. But they are all leaving – and leaving for non Trading Standards jobs.
This indicates that people do not see a good future for Trading Standards. By the way these people were the ones that were being given loads of management responsibility when the people above them left. Many also indicated they don’t like the creeping commercial focus of the department. And of course we are all now being subjected to much higher workloads and stress levels because we have fewer staff than we did before but the department’s workload has not decreased by the same proportion.
So what does all this add up to? A sadness really. A sadness that the future for Trading Standards looks fairly bleak – so much so that the talent are voluntarily leaving – something that just did not happen in our department even 5 years ago.