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 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.”
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.
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”!
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!
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