Fighting talk at Party Conferences

How to tackle the scammers was the main talking point at CTSI’s fringe events during this year’s political party conferences. Our policy team gives a run down of proceedings.

061015CTSi02CTSI’s policy team joined forces with Age UK to take the message about the impact of scams – and the issue of dealing with them – to this year’s Labour and Conservative Party conferences, held in Brighton and Manchester respectively. The ambition was to highlight scams and the valuable role trading standards plays in this – and many other – consumer protection enforcement areas.

Our first fringe event, in Brighton – called ‘Britain’s Hidden Victims: How we can fight scammers who target the vulnerable at home’ – was held in one of the main venues, the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel, on the Tuesday morning. The panel was made up of: Leon Livermore, CTSI chief executive; Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards; Mike Smith,
head of public affairs, Age UK; Lou Baxter, manager of the National Scams Team; and Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne and shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills.
After Baxter gave an excellent outline of some the issues, Smith spoke of Age UK’s research on the number of scam victims, and of Age Cymru’s efforts to extend cold-calling zones. He added that strengthening community resilience against scammers through fighting loneliness was another tool to be used. Audience member Paul Baxter suggested trading standards could work more closely with retail, where they saw a lot of people coming into their shops to purchase electronic vouchers as an alternate payment method to pay scammers – an offer welcomed by Baxter.

290915CTSI031Another audience member asked about the level of prosecutions. Baxter explained that – although there had been some successful prosecutions – the high cost of court cases meant the National Scams Team found disruption the better-value option. Onwurah also responded to the question and said it was important that we fought to retain technology as a force for good, and not let

the scammers turn it into something mistrusted and misused. ‘Cuts in resources mean the government must be held to account,’ she said. ‘We need zero tolerance of these sorts of crimes.’

The following week, the policy team was in Manchester for the Conservative Party conference. This time, the panel comprised: Livermore; Baxter; Julian Knight, Conservative MP for Solihull; Jane Vass, head of public policy, Age UK; and Colin Noble, Conservative leader of Suffolk County Council. In her opening comments, Baxter spoke of the many agencies that can be involved in preventing scams. Vass then said that Age UK would like to see a ‘cross-government task force’ – with proper indicators of success – expanded funding for cold-calling zone work, and recognition
of the health impacts of scams.

Speaking from a local government perspective, Noble said scams were a serious issue for county councils. Suffolk had moved its ambitions from creating a cold-calling zone covering the whole county to putting its trading staff onto the issue of mail scams and positioning trading standards as part of a care team. The issue of care was raised by one of the audience, who suggested that clinical commissioning groups and Public Health England could be more involved. Noble agreed, advocating work with health and wellbeing boards, and that trading standards should be ‘less hidden’ as a service and in its role in community wellbeing. After a member of the audience – a council leader – said that he had never really heard about scams, the panel agreed with him that more information needs to be given to cabinet members.

ctsi fringe event at the Labour Party Conference 2015 Photography by Danny Fitzpatrick +44 (0) 7779 606901

Policy team members also had access to other agencies’ fringe events. At one – on the Nordic model of public services, at the Labour Conference – Stephen Kinnock MP spoke of a culture of ‘valuing the public; large businesses know if they overstep the mark they will be held accountable’. In answer to a question from Suzanne Kuyser, CTSI policy and communications adviser, on enforcing consumer rights and product safety, Emran Mian – director of the Social Market Foundation – said the Nordic countries have a high product standard, which adds value to businesses’ ability to export.

At many of the Labour events, the shadow ministers tried to answer policy questions; however, as Heidi Alexander MP – shadow health minister – explained, her selection for the post was very recent and she was so busy studying all the relevant papers that she still ‘could not see the wood for the trees’. In the case of the Conservative ministers trying
to answer questions on the business rate and other policy issues, it was clear there was still a great deal of work to be done on the details – and their answers were frequently as vague as the shadow ministers’.

Anti-austerity measures were the main topic during Labour’s conference, but the value of trading standards and the role of regulators was referenced on a couple of occasions. Devolution was very much under discussion at the Conservative Party conference, with the debate raised again after the announcement that all business rates collected could be retained by councils. The conferences finished with the respective party leaders’ speeches – both of which were received with great enthusiasm by their very different audiences.

Did you follow our updates on twitter? If not make sure to follow us @ctsi_uk and keep up to date with all trading standards news. Read more about this and how the CTSI policy team got on at the Scottish National Party in the November issue of TS Today.

Listen again to the Conservative party conference CTSI fringe event below:

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