Comment by: Iona Hill
Focus area: Food manufacturing (small businesses)
Regulator concerned: Rural Payments Agency (RPA),Trading Standards (Local Authority)
I have extremely bad experiences with our local Trading Standards office. I have been very honest and open with them and this seems to have been construed as an open invitation to try and gun us down where we were doing absolutely nothing wrong. They local authority I deal with, North Yorkshire operate in such a way that encourages small businesses, organisations with little money and resource not to engage with them and not reveal any information whatsoever. Contrast this to our EHO who is a pleasure to deal with, we respect him and I would like to think vice versa. He is someone whose advice I would ask and with whom I would share concerns, because he works with us and not against us in such an adversarial way as to make me feel we are being hounded out of business.
First off, I redid all our labels as a matter of courtesy showed these to Trading Standards as I wanted to be extra sure that they were compliant with all relevant legislation. Big mistake. I had done my homework before having the labels redesigned and knew that they complied but I wanted to get Trading Standards on side and introduce myself to them as a new SME owner. There was nothing wrong legally with the labels, but this did not stop Trading Standards from raising the most frivolous and petty queries in such a manner that I found it very threatening and quite unnecessary.
Then we were told on their second visit to us that we could not call ourselves our name because we were no longer based in the place we started off. We had expanded and had no option but to move 12 miles away. They would not have it and it got extremely unpleasant and once again, very aggressive and threatening. They seriously wanted to prevent us from using our brand name which could have put us out of business. Is Coverdale cheese made in Coverdale? Nope. Is Bedale cheese made in Bedale? No. Are Mars bars made on Mars? I could continue in this vein. Even when I was ‘allowed to continue’ as we were, the head of Trading Standards snarled at me that he did not accept that our name was a brand. What more can I say? A deeply unpleasant experience that took up a lot of my time and energy; it was a massive worry.
Third visit, I was treated with such contempt and aggression. The woman officer literally tossed a feedback form at me across the desk and left without saying a word. I made a complaint. My complaint was not treated seriously, rather, I was treated as being the trouble maker and dismissed as such. Fourth visit they were really gunning for me. The woman spent 20 minutes trying to fool one of our recently calibrated set of scales: twenty minutes for a small 5kg set of scales. There was nothing wrong with our scales. We will see what this year’s visit brings.
My experience of Trading Standards’ attitude is one of confrontation, aggression and their desire for creating problems and picking fights is next to none. Whilst I know we act within the law and have a Grade A at BRC, I would never, ever voluntarily disclose anything to Trading Standards. They do not, in my experience exist to help small businesses.
Re the RPA: a lot of paperwork and unrealistic reporting deadlines for what?