By Fakir Osman, Head of Trading Standards, Business Support and Innovation
It has been a busy year in the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service (HotSW TS). We have had 17 outbreaks of Avian Influenza in our area and officers have worked with partner agencies to minimise the risk as much as possible. We were forefront in developing a new hybrid approach to dealing with outbreaks; working with the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO) to lobby Members of Parliament, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in order to change the culture and mindset of how we deal with these outbreaks.
Our interventions for victims of scams and rogue traders have saved consumers over £287,000. Scammers continue to change and develop rapidly with cost of living scams taking off as soon as the crisis began. Our scams awareness posts on social media averaged four a week throughout the year.
Officers have been involved in several multi-agency warrants and interventions which has led to the seizing of 482,760 illicit cigarettes and 103.65 kg of illicit hand rolling tobacco, along with numerous illegal vapes. Many of the premises raided have links with organised crime groups.
Budget cuts, staff recruitment and retention issues remain an area of concern. We continue to push as much as possible to retain staff to protect consumers and create a level playing field for businesses.
We have 0.03 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 population and 0.54 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 businesses.
The Service operates from six offices, which are located in Barnstaple, Exeter, Kingsteignton, Plymouth, Torquay and Wellington.
A year in numbers
- Complaints received and assessed: 14,539
- Complaints dealt with: 2,558
- Business advice requests answered: 673
- Other agency requests answered: 2,132
- Inspections completed: 1,048
- Alternative enforcement actions: 1,947
- Licences issued: 144
- Formal actions: 29
Supporting the local economy
Rural business surveillance and support
Ensuring confidence and safety in the farm-to-fork chain, with a focus on maximising animal disease control and increasing biosecurity.
We worked with APHA to respond to 17 outbreaks of avian influenza in the Heart of the South West area, using foot patrols, letters to residents and social media to obtain information required and provide advice and guidance as appropriate.
201 (100% of our target) Critical Control Point visits were completed across livestock markets, collection centres, abattoirs and hauliers.
Our officers continue to have a high level of presence at markets, offering advice and guidance where appropriate and we continue to monitor biosecurity procedures at animal gatherings to reduce the likelihood of the spread of animal disease.
Operation Trailer, involving the police, HotSW TS, APHA, HMRC, environmental health and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), resulted in 12 livestock vehicles being stopped and inspected. 80% of the livestock vehicles had non-compliance issues for which written advice on visit report forms were issued plus two vehicle Welfare in Transit T09 notices.
Bespoke presentations to two haulage companies have reduced their Welfare in Transit complaints from 29 to three and 14 to zero respectively post-training.
Mental health and wellbeing in farming
To recognise, raise awareness and improve mental health and wellbeing.
Our Rural Support and Wellbeing project campaign continues to go from strength to strength. This year, we hosted workshops and exhibited at agricultural shows across Devon and Somerset working closely with external agencies such as Rural Crime Police, Farming Community Network, NFU Mutual, Devon MIND and Business Information Point (BIP).
Together with the Public Health Team we also hosted ‘Health Hubs’ which offered check-ups and the opportunity to speak with a mental health nurse. The campaign aims to make a real difference through identifying health issues and alleviating loneliness in the farming community.
Additionally, the Future Farming Resilience project has secured funding to support our Rural Support and Wellbeing workshops across the greater South West area over the next two years and we have a programme of in-person and online funded workshops planned.
“We work with Devon and Somerset Trading Standards as part of their farming partnership team. Oh no, Trading Standards I hear you say! They aren’t always the bad guys. They are working hard behind the scenes to help people and they are organising a couple of workshops.”Haulier’s customer newsletter April 2023
Used-car sales sector
Engage with most-complained-about car traders to reduce complaint levels and consumer detriment.
Officers have met their targets for this year’s visits to the most complained about traders with a number of audits successfully carried out. Overall, complaints have reduced significantly following our officers’ interventions.
Consumers have been refunded for faulty vehicles and traders themselves have provided positive feedback and have broadly welcomed our engagement, support and advice. We are hoping to build positively on these relationships in the coming year.
Our focus in 2023/24 will shift from the most-complained-about traders to those traders causing the greatest consumer detriment, which we hope will improve the buying experience of more of our customers.
High to low priority premises interventions
Protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for business by targeting interventions.
Each year we carry out a risked-based, intelligence led assessment of premises on our database identifying those which are high priority. We will aim to visit 100% of these premises. This year we completed 100% of our food business interventions, non-food manufacturers interventions, firework inspections and petroleum inspections.
Of our medium to low planned priority interventions 64 were in relation to petroleum storage. This area of work continues to see a high number of non-compliances and we work with individual sites to improve safety.
As a result of the cost-of-living crisis we carried out a project checking petrol pumps were dispensing the correct measures at petrol stations. We visited 17 sites and tested 244 nozzles, all of which were found to be within the limits of error.
Paid-for business support
Buy With Confidence
A difficult trading environment out of the pandemic together with the cost-of-living crisis meant that we saw a drop off in Buy With Confidence (BWC) renewals in 2022/23. A letter/telesales campaign with a renewal offer ending in May 2023 will provide results in the first quarter of 2023/24.
A re-structure means that BWC/HotSW members are now managed by the BWC Central Hub team rather than a dedicated local team.
Our promotional activities continued, however, with a radio and digital advertising campaign and on-going social media and Google ads help to keep our presence up online. We also attended various events throughout the year to promote the scheme to businesses.
Looking forward, we are excited to launch a new BWC website in the autumn/winter of 2023 and after a tendering process, a web designer has been appointed.
- Total members: 323
- New members: 10
Made in Devon
A major new marketing campaign ‘You’ll be amazed what’s Made in Devon’ was launched in March 2022, including outdoor advertising, TV, radio and social media ads and our first Made in Devon networking event was held in May.
Sky TV advert:
We have attended many events with a highlight being a sponsor of the Business Support area at the Devon Business Show at Plymouth Pavilions together with BWC, our Primary Authority offering and Trading Standards.
Our Project Officer filmed a live podcast with Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce which streamed on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
The Made in Devon collection was launched on www.buybritain.com an online marketplace for UK-made products and already 16 members have signed up to it.
Current marketing includes billboards and bus stop advertising – targeting Plymouth and Torbay in particular, plus radio advertising on Heart FM.
- Total members: 86
- New members: 55
Develop and provide paid-for services and partnership work
A new Primary Authority promotional video was created showcasing the benefits of Primary Authority and the support we provided to a local chocolate manufacturer:
This year we continued to issue/re-assure advice for publishing on the Primary Authority register. Issues which our Primary Authority businesses required help on included product recalls, complaints and advice on new products and complex legislative issues and we have received very positive feedback about the support our officers have been providing.
We have attended a number of events to promote our offering to local businesses including a Plymouth Chamber of Commerce Business Event, a Plymouth Growth Hub Thrive Event and the South West Business Expo.
The lab exceeded the income target of £52,500 by over £4,000 as well as saving £18,656 by calibrating our own work.
The response to our advertising and promotion of a training offering for Trading Standards Officers across the country to support them though the Trading Standards qualification (metrology section) was overwhelming with a second cohort having to be arranged. The courses brought in another £8,000 in income, with great feedback being received from attendees.
Our annual UKAS audit took place in May and saw us successfully maintain our accreditation. This was the first physical audit for both the Exeter and Chelston laboratory locations for three years and also a comprehensive four-yearly re-assessment audit.
We are one of only a handful of Local Authority labs in the UK to hold accreditation to OIML class E2, meaning we can calibrate equipment for industries such as aerospace and pharmaceuticals.
Supporting and protecting the most vulnerable
Scams awareness and prevention
Raising awareness of scams to educate consumers and businesses and provide support to victims.
This year saw HotSW TS officers work in partnership with National Trading Standards on helping fraud victims of an international lottery scam. The service returned over £6,900 by Mastercard and £225 by cheque to 40 victims.
We have helped a number of other scam victims including a Bridgwater consumer who was referred to the service regarding a £110,000 loss to a clone investment company. The fraudsters had defrauded the consumer out of his life savings. Following our support, the bank issued a full refund.
Scams Awareness Fortnight took place in June during which we attended two events in Ivybridge and Kingsbridge in partnership with Citizens Advice. We also took part in the Scamnesty campaign on social media encouraging people to send scam mails to the National Scams Team.
After meeting with our scams lead, the Safeguarding Adults Practice Lead from Devon County Council Adult Safeguarding will be making Friends Against Scams online training a requirement for all new and existing staff.
We continue to send out monthly consumer and business newsletters.
- Amount saved for scam victims: £193,463
- Radio Devon slots: 8
- Social media posts: 210
- Press releases: 6
Doorstep crime and rogue traders
Take measures to prevent, disrupt and deter doorstep criminals and rogue traders.
Following an investigation by our Officers, a rogue builder from North Devon was jailed for two years and eight months for defrauding his customers out of approximately £38,000. The builder pleaded guilty to three offences under the Fraud Act and two offences under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. He ran a landscaping and building business and took tens of thousands of pounds from his victims for building or landscaping work he either didn’t start or didn’t complete.
Our interventions in doorstep crime and rogue trading complaints have prevented £44,300 from being handed over to criminals and led to consumers receiving over £49,200 in refunds.
We launched a social media campaign to highlight the problem of high-value home maintenance and building fraud. The campaign raised awareness and provided guidance to consumers on finding reliable builders and was promoted on Trading Standards social media platforms across the region.
We’ve used money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act to install doorbells at the homes of three vulnerable victims of doorstep crime to prevent further detriment and distress.
- £44,300 prevented from being handed over to doorstep criminals.
- Refunds of £49,265 for consumers.
Safety at sports grounds
Ensuring that appropriate safety measures are in place at regulated sporting facilities.
Our Safety at Sports Ground officers worked with a sports ground and partner agencies to ensure we were able to issue a Special Safety Certificate for ‘One night of Neil’, a tribute concert with stars from London’s West End and nine-piece band.
A lot of work has also been underway with another sports ground with the aim of issuing a safety certificate for a major concert in the summer of 2023, which will include performances from Lionel Richie and others.
Other work during the year has included:
- new operational plans
- amendments to general certificates
- advice on safety management problems
- liaison of transport management plans
- a review of pitch incursions at the end of season 2021/22
- examination of grading and risk assessments of venues.
- Special Advisory Group meetings: 12
- Annual reviews of safety certificates relating to regulated venues: 14
- Event inspections carried out according to risk: 12
To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.
101 samples were analysed for compliance with Natasha’s Law. The failure rate was high with 56 unsatisfactory samples (most prevalent being undeclared milk and egg). 34 of the failed samples contained undeclared allergens and 22 were non-compliant due to labelling. All businesses received written advice regarding their failed samples.
We visited a small number of international food retailers where we identified serious breaches of imported food restrictions including the sale of large quantities of prohibited food products, including meat. Two premises were the subject of seizures conducted in collaboration with Environmental Health and a Food Standards investigation is currently ongoing.
A consignment of 22 tons of strawberries entered the UK before the Certificate of inspection (COI) could be signed confirming its organic status. To not have the organic status would have meant the business needed to re-label or incorporate into another product with a massive reduction in revenue. We negotiated with DEFRA and after robust checks it was agreed that we could sign the COI as the local authority to confirm the organic status. The trader and shipping agent were extremely relieved that we facilitated this and thanked us for our efforts.
- High Priority Business Interventions: 102
- Samples taken: 105
- % unsatisfactory samples: 57%
To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.
We carried out 300 visits to businesses across the agriculture sector including feed mills, transporters, pet food businesses, food businesses supplying surplus or co-products as animal feed and a large number of farms. All of our visits were to businesses that were due a visit (using the FSA risk scoring) or were non compliant. Each visit involved providing business support by promoting the growth hub, Future Farm Resilience project and other service provisions. Approximately one third of visits required additional work to bring businesses back into compliance.
All farms visited had animal health issues that were dealt with during the inspections.
We worked with two new feed businesses wishing to get them approved under Regulation 183/2005.
We participated in a national feed sampling project – carrying out formal sampling at eight feed mills across our area – testing for lysine and methionine in pig and poultry feed. All samples were satisfactory.
We carried out controls on imported feed at both Plymouth and Teignmouth Docks, sampling a variety of feed materials from Lithuania, Sweden and Netherlands.
- Total samples taken: 6
- % samples unsatisfactory: 17%
- Number of business interventions: 179
- % funded inspections completed: 100% (324)
- Total samples taken: 8
- % samples unsatisfactory: 0%
Helping people to live healthier lives by preventing harm and promoting individual health
Prevent harm to consumers by ensuring businesses comply with legislation regarding the sale of age-restricted products including tobacco.
A poster was sent to secondary schools and PSCOs in our area to raise awareness around the appeal of disposable vapes to children.
In December we joined forces with Devon and Cornwall Police to carry out test purchasing of alcohol to underage volunteers in Plymouth. 10 retailers were tested with only one failure. Police and Trading Standards worked with the shop to improve their understanding of regulations and ways to verify a shopper’s age.
We took part in Operation Sceptre with Devon and Cornwall Police targeting underage knife sales. We used the opportunity to follow up on intelligence regarding non-compliant vapes being sold, seizing vapes with a street value of around £7,400 from a store in Plymouth.
Officers carried out an underage sales vape test purchasing operation in Barnstaple, visiting four premises, one of which sold vapes to our volunteer. Illegal vaping products were also seized.
Prevent harm to consumers by restricting the supply of illicit tobacco.
Officers took part in Operation Lazarus, a multi-agency operation with HMRC, Devon and Cornwall Police and Avon and Somerset Police and detection dogs simultaneously targeting eight premises of interest with regards to illegal tobacco and related activity. We successfully located a storage container with the assistance of tobacco detection dogs and seized 345,840 cigarettes and 22kg of hand-rolling tobacco estimated to be valued at over £100,000. A closure order was served on a premises subsequent to a tobacco warrant.
A three-month closure order was granted against a retailer in Tiverton after our HotSW TS officers received information that the premises was selling illegal tobacco. With the help of Devon and Cornwall Police we raided the premises, where more than 40kg of illegal tobacco (including counterfeit tobacco), 3,000-plus packets of cigarettes and 800-plus pouches of hand-rolling tobacco were found. The court awarded costs of £4,039.72 to Mid Devon District Council.
- Enforcement actions carried out: 33
- Premises from which products were seized: 16
- Number of individual cigarettes seized: 482,760
- Hand-rolling tobacco seized: 103.65kg
- Number of individual niche tobacco products seized: 40
Product safety market surveillance and sampling
To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.
We worked closely with our Primary Authority (PA) companies on product recalls across toys, children’s drinking bottles, hair dryers and chemicals in toy bath ducks (a recall of 100,000 products). We also advised on recalls for non-PA businesses across shoes Azo dyes, beach fridges (an ongoing worldwide issue) and a fire door locking system.
We have continued to work closely with the ports authorities when products/containers have been stopped and in some cases we have been able to authorise release so that we can work with the businesses to bring their items into compliance, for example toy skateboards incorrectly labelled.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has been carrying out a sampling programme with failures sent to us for input with local businesses.
OPSS launched a new risk assessment system Prism requiring staff training on its use on the National Product Safety database for non-compliant products.
Two HotSW TS officers attended the OPSS safety seminar in London and gave a presentation on safety with a focus on PA.
Media releases have included Halloween safety and a Christmas video focusing on toys.
- High-priority firework inspections: 43
- High-priority non-food inspections: 17
- Total number of business inspections: 125
- Number of products removed from sale (value): 45,487 (£316,570)
- Number of samples taken: 20
- % samples unsatisfactory: 40%
Increase consumer awareness, provide regulatory support and increase compliance.
Solid fuel labelling
A solid fuel labelling project, identifying solid fuel packers across the service area, was carried out to ensure traders were aware of new legislation on product labelling. Officers checked wood and bagged solid fuel labels and a good level of compliance was found. We plan to look at online/social media sellers of solid fuel to ensure that wood is ‘aged’ or otherwise correctly labelled for retail sale.
E-crime/intellectual property crime
The Service has continued to identify and tackle sellers of illicit/counterfeit goods at both physical premises and online. Officers have provided guidance to market/car boot organisers on how to identify illicit/counterfeit goods and how to report to Trading Standards. We have also discussed signing up to the ‘Real Deal’ charter – an agreement to keep markets free from counterfeit and illicit goods.
Online sellers have typically been dealt with by means of a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter of advice, however where advice was ignored, test purchases and investigations followed.
This year several cease and desist letters have been issued along with a Service Warning Letter for one counterfeiter in Plymouth.
One Frome business was fined £8,000 following appeal, for failing to protect clients deposits in one of the six prescribed Client Money Protection Schemes. This was the first fixed penalty notice that the HotSW TS has issued.