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Leon Livermore former CTSI CEO talks to The Complaining Cow

I talk with former CEO of Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Leon Livermore, in a series of exclusive interviews. In the first one we discussed his achievements and challenges at CTSI. In the second we spoke about Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the criticisms of CTSI regarding monitoring and approval of providers. Today we discuss his criticisms of Government and what should be done.

Leon in his kitchen

Leon Livermore’s Criticisms of Government

In the Ombudsman Omnishambles reports, BEIS was heavily criticised for its “soft touch” and not doing enough to improve the ADR landscape. So, I asked Leon what his criticism of BEIS would be. He spoke more of Government as a whole rather than BEIS per se. He was then on a bit of a roll! He names the criticisms as:

  • A lack of clear coherent consumer strategy across Government
  • There’s a lack of proper joined up regulatory strategy across Government. He gave the example of horsemeat and although a consumer protection issue they were told that technically it is a food issue and they couldn’t talk to the Consumer Minister about it. He called for the Consumer Minister to work across government. “So yes, you might have to deal with many departments but let’s have the Consumer Minister actually being a Consumer Minister being that clear and responsible person where every single issue related to the consumer goes through that.”
  • “They need to stop throwing things at Local Government” The CTSI obtained all the pieces of legislation from the Chambers of Commerce. There were 256 pieces of legislation, the majority of which had come in since austerity. “Stop it. Stop that”. He calls for the Government to be honest and say that they are giving a statutory framework and not statutory duties. He calls on the Government to be honest about not being able to enforce it all.
  • Lastly, he wants the Government to stop shying away from difficult conversations. With a problem in how the country tackles enforcement, Leon looks at enforcement through product, place and people. Place, local government look at licensing if it happens in an area but most consumer protection is not like that anymore.
  • He uses Whirlpool again as an example of a elongated and complicated supply chain issue that is not restricted to product. The horsemeat issue wasn’t even in this country but the UK was a victim of food fraud. He points out that the wrong place to intervene in the market surveillance and customer safety is in shops but the resources go to the local level and criminals can easily cross boundaries.

What does Leon think should be done?

Leon acknowledges that we won’t get structural reform but has told the UK Government that it often advises a lot of countries on regulatory reform and regulatory structures but has have never advised any country to have a system like ours! You can’t have accountability for something like Whirlpool remaining with a poor council. “Stick the funding and accountability centrally and the delivery locally”, he says. This of course makes sense when you look at how consumers shopping habits and the development of businesses have changed. Believing this model to start to make sense, he wants the funding to be apportioned appropriately.

He wants this to come through in the Consumer Command Paper but does not want it to be lost in the cry for localism. Decisions should be made at a local level because, as he rightly points out, you wouldn’t want a Parish Council making decisions about a motorway but they do decide on footpaths. This is an area he believes that strong leadership is needed (like many others I would say!).

Few cases are taken to court because of the funding structure, we talked about the most recent one being the Birmingham Trading Standards and the Tesco strawberries! Local authorities just can’t take the legal action and it should be done centrally.

In short, there is a mechanism for working with local Trading Standards, so let’s use it.

He talked at length about how this could work and interestingly said that it was not about funding, they are used to funding go up and down but the “abject failure to set out a coherent strategy that says this is what we want to see from consumer protection and this is what we want to see from our regulators locally and nationally delivering on that.”

Former CTSI CEO discusses what his criticisms of Government are in relation to consumer protection

 

The priorities for consumers

Leon questions the priority given to consumers. It was four years ago that Leon gave evidence in Parliament about consumer protection post EU exit and three years that we had the Green Paper but we still hadn’t hadn’t had the Command Paper at the time of the interview. The announcement was released today, the  Covid aside, and making allowances for it, we are all consumers, we all spend money. Informed and confident consumers are really good for the economy.

This is underpinned by high quality information, businesses who know and understand their obligations, transparency in the system and really good quality regulation and principle based.

Having met regulators from other countries Leon believes that ours are amongst the best, the skills and competence we have are excellent. But it is just incumbent on the political senior leadership of this country to give it direction. This is what we want the system to look like, this is what we want it to deliver and this is the resource we will put into it. You as the deliverers are responsible for delivering it but it needs to be clear.

Leon can forsee another Whirlpool, Grenfell or horsemeat scandal if the strategy is not got right, so Trading Standards can’t intervene.

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore talks about the lack of priority for the consumer

 

Any advice for the new CTSI CEO?

Leon says simply that he should be in his own person and enjoy the role which has such a good social purpose with an excellent team.

He advises John Herriman, his successor, to use all the expertise and support around him. He even conceded that people like me who “moan at us but moan for the right reasons” are helpful to the CTSI cause. Although, I prefer the words “complain” and “challenge”!

Former CTSI CEO Leon Livermore provides some advice for his successor

 

And just what did Leon think of The Complaining Cow?

Having been a thorn in Leon’s side for a number of years, the question had to be asked… what did he really think?

Well, he never opened my emails on the way home and always waited until the morning! That amused me. But he said that, as a CEO, he didn’t want people to tell him he was right when he was wrong and wants people who don’t let go! He says that we need people like me “Who cut the crap!”

Leon strongly believes that with me as a passionate campaigner and him as a pragmatist that there will be an opportunity to change things and that we would not be far apart in what we want to see happen.

Saying the same thing but in different ways! Who knew?!

Although we still differ on some things in ADR!

Whilst at CTSI, former CEO Leon Livermore tells Helen Dewdney what he really thought of her...

 

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ADR Ombudsman Business Complaining about faulty goods Latest News Online shopping and deliveries Press releases

The Retail Ombudsman is no more as title is lost

Former “Ombudsman” loses the right to use respected title

Reblogged from http://ceoemail.blogspot.com

 Dean Dunham TRO shop front mannequins

The Retail Ombudsman loses title

The Retail Ombudsman (TRO) is no more. The private company, set up in 2015 to provide dispute resolution for consumers, has lost the right to use the respected title of “Ombudsman”.

The Retail Ombudsman resigns from the Ombudsman Association

TRO has resigned from the Ombudsman Association (OA), its trade body, for reasons that remain unclear. The resignation means that it is no longer allowed to use the “Ombudsman” title. The company is in the process of dropping the title during the course of this week. It will now operate as a provider of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, outside of the ombudsman system.

Update 21/07/21 from the Ombudsman Association Statement on The Retail Ombudsman

Companies House rules on using the “Ombudsman” title

Companies House rules stipulate that companies using the “Ombudsman” title must be members of the OA. The OA seeks to ensure the quality of its members through a periodic revalidation process. However, rather than complete the recent revalidation process, TRO resigned just as that process was concluding. Neither the OA nor TRO would comment on the circumstances which have caused the resignation.

The ADR/Ombudsman landscape

Privately-run ombudsman services have been a feature of the consumer landscape in the UK for several years. However, the system has been heavily criticised by consumer groups. It is described as being difficult to use, lacking transparency and not having a single point of contact for consumers.

Many of the largest high-street retailers, including ASDA, Tesco and Morrisons, had refused to co-operate with TRO. They preferred to use their own internal complaints process, another ombudsman or ADR scheme.

Who oversees ADR schemes

The appointment, regulation and management of private-sector ombudsmen is fragmented. It is dealt with through a complicated combination of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), the Ombudsman Association (OA) and Companies House. BEIS would not comment on TRO’s loss of ombudsman status, instead deferring to the Companies House press office, who in turn have not provided any substantive comment.

Comment on the ADR situation

Marcus Williamson, the editor of consumer information website CEOemail.com, who has been monitoring private ADR since 2014, said: “The behaviour of TRO – in resigning during the OA revalidation process – demonstrates once again that a retail ombudsman role is too sensitive to be handled by the private sector. It is time that retail was given a government-run ombudsman system, in a similar way to the financial sector.”

Williamson – who co-authored the June 2016 report Ombudsman Omnishambles with Helen Dewdney – suggested that TRO’s management had made a number of fundamental errors of judgement in its 2 1/2 years of operation. This included, he noted, employing both a convicted criminal as its communications director and having an ombudsman individual who had breached the Companies Act on multiple occasions. Williamson believes that OA and CTSI should insist on a “fit and proper person” test prior to allowing any individual to take on an ombudsman role.

About Dean Dunham

The Retail Ombudman had been run by Dean Dunham, a solicitor, former restauranteur and former celebrity lawyer, who established TRO in early 2015. He claimed to have 15,000 retail companies as members of TRO and 100 staff, although the company’s accounts filed at Companies House do not support these figures. He also had a regular slot on the London-based LBC talk radio channel, offering consumer advice, and has a Sunday Mirror column.

Westminster Business Forum seminar Next steps for consumer protection in the UK – dispute processes, enforcement and the consumer markets green paper. 15/11/18

Presentation. Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest possible sense of the words…

How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -

 

Update 21st July 2017

Statement on The Retail Ombudsman by the Ombudsman Association

Update February 2018

The section from the OA’s minutes below is taken from the More Ombudsman Omnishambles report:

“10.The Retail Ombudsman – loss of ombudsman title
At the 102nd meeting of the Ombudsman Association Executive Committee, on 5 May 2017,the committee decided not to revalidate TRO for the reasons shown below. These minutes were online and publicly available until January 2018. They are now in a “members’ only” section of the OA website. In summary:

1) “The ‘pay as you go’ model operated in relation to their ‘Independent members’ resulted in a relationship that did not meet  theOA’s membership criteria.”

2) “TRO did not have significant coverage / market share of the retail sector,”

3) “Concerns about the misleading information that had been provided on the Retail Ombudsman’s website”

4) “Concerns in the information provided regarding their list of members.”

5) “Presentation of non-member logos in their annual report could be misleading”

6) “Been alerted that 33 of the Furniture Ombudsman’s corporate members were at that time incorrectly listed on the Retail Ombudsman website as being Independent Members of their scheme. The Validation Committee had subsequently received correspondence from some of those organisations confirming they had no relationship
with the Retail Ombudsman.”

7) “Awareness of the proliferation activity of the Retail Ombudsman in setting up online and social media presences for other sectors: FinanceADR, UtilitiesADR and CommsADR. The FinanceADR website advertised that they could deal with some complaints that in fact fell within the regulated jurisdiction of the Financial Ombudsman Service.”

8) “Concerns about levels of governance and accountability within the organisation.”

9) “The Executive unanimously agreed that the accumulation of examples of inaccurate and potentially misleading information to the public in relation to their membership and jurisdiction demonstrated that the Retail Ombudsman did not meet the OA’s overall membership criteria of Openness & Transparency, and risked substantial reputational damage to the OA.”

“The Executive did not have the trust or confidence that these issues could be resolved satisfactorily and voted unanimously to propose the expulsion of the Retail Ombudsman
under section 6 of the Association’s Rules.”(Please see Appendix J for  full details).

CDRL statement

A statement placed on The Retail Ombudsman website in July 2017 claims that the decision to transition from ombudsman to non-ombudsman had been taken entirely by Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited:

“CDRL had aspirations to expand its ADR offering, under The Retail Ombudsman brand into sectors beyond high street and online retail. However, last year Ombudsman Association introduced a rule that it would only allow one ‘ombudsman’ scheme per sector which meant that CDRL would not be able to continue its expansion plans as an ombudsman. Naturally, CDRL had to respect this decision.”

However, the OA had written to TRO to outline its position before it resigned.

Ombudsman Association’s position on The Retail Ombudsman

In response to TRO’s statement, the OA responded:

“The OA’s Validation Committee reviewed The Retail Ombudsman’s (TRO) submission for re-validation on 25 January 2017 and on 19 April 2017.

TRO was originally admitted to ‘Ombudsman membership’ of the OA as it appeared on paper that our membership criteria was met, but it was subject to re-validation so that practical evidence of compliance could be demonstrated.

The Validation Committee reviewed the application and the further papers submitted. Following careful consideration the Validation Committee unanimously agreed that TRO did not meet the OA’s membership criteria.

The Validation Committee’s recommendation was considered by the OA Executive Committee on 5 May 2017, and was carried unanimously. TRO was invited to address the next meeting of the OA Executive Committee before a final vote be taken to withdraw TRO’s membership. However, TRO resigned its membership before the final stage of the revalidation process was completed.”

It would appear therefore that TRO resigned, rather than be expelled, as it would have been if it had fully completed the OA’s revalidation process.”

Update 23 August 2018

Landing in court with Ryanair the latest including failures in AviationADR, Which? and The Independent reports on CDRL which runs these schemes.

Ombudsman/ADR reports

Report cover CDRL, CTSI, CAA, OA, Dean Dunham,

 

June 2016 Ombudsman Omnishambles Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK

 

 

 

Crowds of people with report covering OA, CTSI, CA, CDRL, Dean Dunham & others

 

February 2018 More Ombudsman Omnishambles The UK ADR Landcsape 20 months on 

References

Companies House rules on use of Ombudsman title https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incorporation-and-names/annex-a-sensitive-words-and-expressions-or-words-that-could-imply-a-connection-with-government
(see paragraph 1.86)

TRO members list
https://www.theretailombudsman.org.uk/tro-list/

TRO staff numbers and retail members
https://www.theretailombudsman.org.uk/why-the-retail-ombudsman-is-the-best-adr-choice-for-small-retailers/

Companies formerly run by Dean Dunham
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/officers/yEuzy-BYjZK6erw9hbUGFZ1Y4SU/appointments

Accounts for Consumer Dispute Resolution Limited, trading as The Retail Ombudsman
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/09189773/filing-history

The Retail Ombudsman brochure for retailers