HC Deb 23 June 1993 vol 227 cc283-4
1. Mr. Gerrard

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment he has made of the impact of local government reform on the work of trading standards officers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Technology (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

The aim of local government reform is to improve the accountability, efficiency and effectiveness of all local government services.

Mr. Gerrard

Does the Minister accept that an increase in the number of local authorities with trading standards powers will mean their having to set up their own specialist teams to deal with specific sectors of trade? How does he intend to ensure that that does not exacerbate the current national shortage of qualified trading standards officers, and that the money will be available to provide the extra numbers required?

Mr. McLoughlin

The hon. Gentleman prejudges the Local Government Boundary Commission. That is a dangerous thing for him to do. I am aware of concern about small unitary authorities providing training standards services. However, the reform process involves extensive consultation and affords an ample opportunity for any potential difficulties to be anticipated and solutions developed. The hon. Gentleman's own borough council is a unitary authority, and perhaps he is concerned because it does not provide a good service. That would not be surprising, as it is Labour controlled.

Mr. Waller

Is my hon. Friend aware that the joint committee arrangement that enables the five districts in West Yorkshire to run a combined countywide trading standards service is regarded as successful? Does he agree that the range of expertise required to fulfil the wide responsibilities that trading standards officers have these days makes the economies of scale afforded by joint arrangements most valuable, and that that should be considered in the context of the Local Government Commission's recommendations?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His example shows how joint arrangements can work successfully. The matter can be considered in the context of the proposals of the Local Government Commission, when the House eventually decides on them.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Does the Minister realise that when the Government abolished the metropolitan county councils there was a surge in consumer frauds, counterfeit goods and activities by loan sharks? Does he recall that Tory councils, such as Westminster today, have slashed their budgets for consumer protection? Will he answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) asked: what will he do to ensure that the 220 vacancies for professional trading standards officers are filled immediately?

Mr. McLoughlin

That is a damning indictment of Barking and Dagenham, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Hounslow, Islington, Lewisham, Merton, Southwark and Waltham Forest, which are all Labour controlled. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that those authorities are incompetent in carrying out their duties?