Plans to charge for Trading Standards advice slammed

Councillor Andre Gonzalez De Savage talking to head of Northamptonshire Trading Standards David Hedger
Councillor Andre Gonzalez De Savage talking to head of Northamptonshire Trading Standards David Hedger

A county councillor has attacked plans to make businesses pay for some Trading Standards advice.

The plan was passed by the Conservative cabinet at Northamptonshire County Council but has been deferred to the scrutiny committee.

Under the plan, businesses would be charged almost £60 an hour for advice they receive from Northamptonshire Trading Standards.

Currently the advice is free, regardless of how often a business uses the service, how big the business is or how complex its query is.

Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Lofts has called the plans a “tax on jobs”.

He said: “For small businesses this cost could be crippling, and in the current climate, the council should be doing everything it can to help business – not cripple it further.

The Liberal Democrats have suggested that small and medium businesses should be exempt from the charges.”

The cabinet member for strategic infrastructure, economic growth and public protection, Cllr Andre Gonzalez de Savage, said the ongoing financial pressures faced by the authority had forced it to look at charging firms for advice on a cost recovery basis.

He said: “We simply cannot afford to keep offering this service for free, and by putting a charging structure in place, we can make sure this service continues to exist.

“We have consulted with businesses that we regularly advise and in general, they understood the situation we are facing. We are not alone in this challenge and other local authorities have already begun charging for trading standards business advice.”

Under the proposals anything beyond the most basic advice would be charged at a rate of £58.54 per hour.

Start-up businesses would receive up to two hours free trading standards advice.

Members of the trading standards Buy with Confidence approved trader scheme already pay an annual fee and will continue to receive support as part of that package.

Commenting on the plans, Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Northamptonshire chamber, said: “In times of public sector cuts, it is understandable that some services may now have to be charged for to enable them to continue and I am glad that this vital service to businesses is being retained rather than cut.

“However, I would hope that the cost being paid by businesses is no more than the cost of running the service and that no profit is being made. In an ideal world, I would like to see this service subsidised.

“One concern I do have is that this could be an additional burden to law abiding businesses and others may be deterred from taking advice altogether, which could lead to quality issues.”

The plans were given the go-ahead at meeting on July 16 and have been deferred to the scrutiny committee, who must meet by August 6.

They can either approve the decision or ask for further consultation.