December 7 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 7, 2013
Investigations and enforcement action against rogue traders, fraudsters and businesses selling alcohol to children will be scaled back if wide-ranging council cuts go ahead, trading standards bosses have warned.
And fire chiefs have revealed how they plan to make savings by introducing smaller fire engines, while a staffing review will mean some vacant posts are not filled.
As part of a package of £140m cuts proposed by leaders at Norfolk County Council, scam prevention, tests on consumer goods and the popular Trusted Trader scheme are all at risk in the authority’s trading standards department.
Under one of the proposals, aimed at saving £370,000 over three years, trading standards advice will be scaled back to focus on what the council department has to do by law.
And that is likely to have a significant impact on the number of investigations which trading standards officers can carry out against businesses which operate unfairly.
Only the most serious cases would be investigated and officers would only be able to offer advice and support to the county’s most vulnerable people if they are pursuing criminal investigations.
General consumer advice and support to individuals would no longer be provided, while businesses could have to pay for advice they seek.
David Collinson, head of Norfolk Trading Standards, said the cuts would be so deep it would affect what the council is statutorily required to do.
He said: “In terms of protecting the farming community from animal diseases and matters of consumer detriment such as rogue traders, doorstep sellers and underage alcohol sales we will have to reduce all that.
“The current expectation is that we will have to reduce our work on consumer goods and services testing work by about 20pc. If the proposals go ahead we will have to work hard to identify the most serious issues to focus on, but we will be unable to deal with the less serious ones.”
Trading Standards will, if the cuts are approved, no longer spearhead No Cold Calling Zones – a successful scheme where communities across Norfolk have come together to say “no” to doorstep callers.
And the popular Trusted Trader scheme – where some 300 businesses recommended by customers are checked by trading standards and included on a list of high-quality and trustworthy companies – is also under threat.
Dan Roper, cabinet member for public protection, said: “I didn’t come into politics to cut things, but to help communities and make things better, so it is with a heavy heart that these cuts are proposed.
“We have said all along that these are very tough times and we are looking at real service reductions here. Trading standards is an example of where we are facing having to stop doing something which the council does.
“It’s been said that for every pound spent on trading standards the consumer is saved £6, so if you’re looking at cuts in the region of £500,000, then that’s really a £3m cut to the general public.
“The key thing is that it is a real consultation and there is headroom within it for the public to make choices. We are not presenting it as a fait accompli.”
A number of posts in the trading standards department will be put at risk if the proposals are agreed.
Vacant posts in Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service are also unlikely to be filled due to a staffing review in that department, although Mr Roper stressed the jobs of serving firefighters were not vulnerable.
He said: “There is no reduction in the number of fire stations or the number of firefighters available on the front-line in Norfolk. The only posts which would be cut are the ones that are vacant anyway.”
One of the ways the fire service is looking to save £1.1m is by buying different types of fire engines for some of the county’s stations. The proposal is to change the type of fire engine at 12 of the retained duty fire stations.
Six stations – Cromer, Diss, Dereham, Fakenham, Sandringham and Wymondham – which have two fire engines would be replaced with one new large fire engine for up to nine firefighters and one four by four vehicle carrying five firefighters.
That proposal was already consulted on back in 2010, but a fresh proposal would see a further change at Earlham, Gorleston, Reepham, Heacham, Hethersett and Terrington, where the normal fire engines would be replaced by “compact” fire engines.
They would have up to seven personnel and would be able to attend a full range of incidents, but with a reduced amount of equipment.
With the new appliances paid for through a grant fund, fire chiefs say they would be cheaper and save money on fuel, while allowing the service to be more flexible.
Another proposal is to save £80,000 by no longer supplying and fitting free smoke detectors beyond April next year.
Mr Roper said: “What’s not going to stop are the home fire risk checks for vulnerable people. The smoke detectors were something which had been funded by the government. That stopped, but we continued funding them. “As a service, we’d encourage people to have smoke alarms, but in the current climate it is not necessary to get them from the fire service –there’s other means.
“When you look at the cost, £80,000 will run a retained fire station for months or pay for two-and-a-half full-time firefighters.”