Olympic brand is forcing public safety into second place
housands of Trading Standards hours are being used up in protecting the Olympic brand and corporate sponsors, instead of protecting the public, UNISON warned today.
The UK’s largest union called the commitment ‘hard to justify in the light of swingeing cuts to Trading Standard budgets’ and said it could put the public at risk by preventing officers from carrying out their usual duties.
A national survey of Trading Standards staff carried out by UNISON raised these concerns, with 40% of respondents saying the London 2012 Olympics would have a ‘major impact’ on the workload of their local Trading Standards services.
Trading Standards carry out a wide range of work, including tackling loan sharks, reducing doorstep crime, seizing unsafe children’s toys and stopping underage tobacco sales. In spite of this, Trading Standards budgets are facing enormous cuts: In the 24 months between 2010/11 and 2012/13 Trading Standards budgets in England have fallen by more than £28.6m amounting to a 16% cut.
Helga Pile, UNISON national officer, said:
“Consumers rely on the hard work of trading standards officers in so many ways from identifying dangerous goods to tackling rogue traders. With fewer officers left in the service, those that remain are going the extra mile to deal with the upsurge in counterfeit goods, ticket touting and illegal street trading that the Olympics will inevitably bring. But diverting so much resource to protecting the Olympic brand – and the financial interests of huge corporations such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola – is hard to justify when budgets have been squeezed so hard.
“Trading Standards officers want to do their bit for the Olympics but they also have to make sure the public is protected from real threats and that leads to questions about whether the brands should be the priority.
“Once the Olympics is over it is the hard-stretched Trading Standards officers that will have to pick up the backlog as well as the pieces when things go wrong.”
Thirty local authorities are directly involved with protecting the Olympic enforcement, and the staff contribution amounts to the equivalent of 342 enforcement days. The cost is being estimated at £868,000 - the ODA is paying local authorities the hourly rate for the officer time.
Other local authorities are also affected in providing cover and prioritising brand protection.
Respondents to the UNISON survey highlighted the impact this commitment is having on carrying out their duties. One said: “Brand protection for London 2012 appears to be the priority which is being imposed on our service from above. The driver is protecting trademark holders, not protecting the public from counterfeit goods.”
Another said: “Officers [are being] seconded to work as enforcement officers for the ODA. The rest of the department has been told that brand protection (normally a very light touch area of enforcement) will take higher priority”
Respondents spoke of the impact on other work: “Other important areas of work will have to be put back or missed out entirely die to coverage for the London Olympics"
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