Cuts fears for regulatory services

By Ian Dipple Friday 20 June 2014 Updated: 20/06 11:27

THE SERVICE responsible for Trading Standards could be at risk of collapse if further cuts are made to its budget.

Councils across the county have been warned Worcestershire Regulatory Services cannot withstand any further cuts to staff and funding and have called for a new way of financing its work to be explored.

The service was set-up in 2010 to provide a range of functions such as food safety, air quality and pest control for the six district councils and county council as a way of sharing costs. But as councils have come under increasing financial pressure they have looked to make additional savings by cutting their funding for the service.

For the current financial year another £646,000 of cuts were proposed, reducing the WRS budget to below £5million which it has been stressed is the absolute minimum it can operate on. It would also see staff numbers fall to 102 from 154 in 2010.

However there are signs budget cuts are set to continue. Of particular concern is Worcestershire County Council’s proposal to cut its investment from £1.5million in 2014/15 to just £250,000 in 2016/17.

The impact on Trading Standards is a particular worry as in 2016/17 there may be just six Trading Standards officers for the whole of the county compared to 25 in 2013/14.

A joint task group, made up of councillors from across Worcestershire which has been reviewing the way WRS operates, has now warned unless councils stop the cuts and back the service its future survival is uncertain.

Coun Rod Laight, chairman of the group, told a meeting of the borough council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (June 17): “We implore and plead with all of the partners, stay together and don’t look for anymore individual cuts. This WRS must be sacrosanct for the sake of all our residents.

“To cut any further would badly affect it and you would lose some major services.”

Kevin Dicks, chief executive of Redditch Borough Council, added: “There comes a point where WRS says we cannot physically do it anymore.”

Coun Carole Gandy said residents may not understand what WRS did but they would feel the impact if it failed.

“Everything they do is about improving people’s lives. It’s about air pollution, noise pollution ensuring people don’t get conned by unscrupulous people, it’s about ensuring you don’t get E.coli when you go into a restaurant,” she said.

Efforts are already being made to find a strategic partner from the commercial sector to support the service while the task group has recommended a new funding model is developed allowing councils to pick and choose which activities they want to buy to suit their local needs and individual finances.

The report will be considered by the Worcestershire Shared Services Joint Committee.

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