With polling stations set to open in less than 24 hours, the policy team here at CTSI wait with anticipation for the outcome of what is being described as the most important and unpredictable general election in a generation.
The past month or so has seen a frenzy of campaign activity from all parties with promises, disagreements and debates from the left, right and centre on everything from the need for a better NHS, to more jobs and fewer zero hours contracts, help for renters and first time buyers, and of course the hotly debated topic of devolution throughout the UK.
Sadly though, despite the vast amount of election rhetoric focusing on a diverse array of sectors, the important issue of consumer protection has been widely overlooked by party leaders from across the political spectrum.
In the past weeks as the CTSI policy team delved into each of the main parties’ much anticipated election manifestos we were disappointed to see a complete lack of interest from both Labour and the Conservatives with regards to consumer protection policy. Trading standards failed to be mentioned in any of the major parties’ manifestos and only the Liberal Democrats included a short section specifically focusing on consumer issues where they acknowledged the importance of confident consumers in a recovering economy and made promises to clampdown on rogue traders and payday lenders that lead to significant consumer detriment.
So why has consumer protection been largely omitted from the manifestos and wider election campaigning?
Perhaps each of the parties in their struggle for coverage in this era of 24 hour news and social media feel that consumer protection just isn’t that glamorous, or maybe they fear that without a firm solution for addressing dwindling trading standards services and increased consumer detriment, trading standards’ critically important work just doesn’t provide enough key political sound bites to draw voters in their swathes on May 7.
This apparent lack of political interest is somewhat of a concern. However, at CTSI, among external stakeholders and in the wider officers of government, we firmly believe that there is a deeper understanding and recognition that this often forgotten and unspoken issue remains at the heart of a healthy and expanding economy, and that proactive steps to protect consumers, and the services in place to protect them, need to be taken sooner rather than later to avoid the system reaching crisis point.
As the new government is formed in the coming weeks, CTSI remains hopeful that the importance of consumer protection and salvaging trading standards will be recognised as a priority regardless of who takes office in Number 10. Crucially, we hope that our newly developed vision for consumer protection will be welcomed as a solution to address the challenges currently faced by local authority trading standards services, challenges that are only set to increase as austerity continues into the next government. If not, the future of trading standards stands in the balance, and that’s a very frightening thing for everyone.