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Agenda Item No. 6

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Shared Regulatory Services Joint Committee: 26th September 2017

 

Report of the Director of Environment and Housing

 

Buy with Confidence Scheme

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To advise the Joint Committee of the 'Buy with Confidence' approved trader scheme and to seek approval for the initiative to be trialled across the Shared Regulatory Services region with a view to full adoption at a later date.

Recommendations

It is recommended that the Joint Committee

  1. Approves the trialling of the Buy with Confidence scheme by means of a pilot exercise
  2. Reviews the results of the pilot exercise at a future meeting, with a view to full implementation and promotion of the scheme, as appropriate, in the 2018 - 19 financial year.

Reasons for the Recommendations

  1. Adoption of the Buy with Confidence scheme in other areas of the UK has brought significant benefits in terms of supporting reputable businesses and in protecting consumers from rogue traders. A pilot exercise would enable the scheme's effectiveness to be assessed, prior to the Shared Service giving a longer term commitment to its running
  2. By reviewing the results of the pilot exercise, decisions can be made as to its cost effectiveness and the resources that would need to be aligned to run the scheme locally.

Background

  1. The 'Buy with Confidence' (BWC) approved trader scheme is administered by Devon, Somerset and Hampshire Councils, working in partnership with the South West Region Co-ordinators of Trading Standards (SWERCOTS). Currently, the scheme is available in over 50 local authority areas, and while most of these are in England, the six North Wales authorities run a successful BWC scheme and within recent months Newport City Council has launched its own scheme too.
  2. BWC provides a means of awarding 'Trading Standards approval' to local businesses found to be reputable and operating in a safe, financially sound and sufficiently scrupulous way for residents to engage with them with confidence. Administration of the scheme involves auditing the applicant business and its trading practices, including financial scrutiny, customer feedback and criminal records checks as appropriate.
  3. The benefits of the scheme can be categorised as being two-fold:-
  • For businesses

The scheme promotes the use of local reputable traders by giving them the competitive advantage of being able to advertise their 'Trading Standards approved' status.

  • For residents

The scheme enables consumers to be signposted to reputable local traders, and allows regulatory services to encourage residents to engage with BWC approved businesses. This would be a major step forward in protecting consumers against the risk of rogue traders and doorstep criminals working at their properties with the misery that invariably brings. This is particularly important in terms of the safeguarding of vulnerable residents and those in our communities repeatedly targeted by rogues and scammers.

  1. Under the BWC scheme, a business submits an application to join along with an application fee. The business is audited by Trading Standards and must pass a set of strict checks before being accepted as a BWC member. The process requires the following to be completed successfully for each applicant:-

         a)     Review of consumer complaints history

         b)     Financial check

         c)     Good references from previous customers

         d)     Agreement that the BWC code of conduct will be adhered to, both in terms of the spirit and the letter of the law

         e)     Criminal records disclosure may also be required in some circumstances including where businesses are working in or around a consumers home or in higher risk sectors.

  1. The audit of each business includes detailed checking of business policies, procedures and advertising to ensure compliance with relevant legislation. This input has the effect of reducing the risk of consumer detriment and enhancing the prospect of business success and growth. The scheme also requires businesses to provide a high standard of customer service and as such an effective complaints procedure is a mandatory requirement of entry. Should a complaint be received it must be dealt with in a timely and professional fashion and recorded.
  2. If the application is successful, the applicant is admitted into the scheme and can use the 'Trading Standards approved' logo. A membership fee is payable for the first year and annually thereafter for the lifetime of the membership. The fees charged vary according to the size of the business (the number of full time equivalent employees) and are set centrally by the national co-ordinators as follows:-

 

Number of FTE employees

Application Fee

Annual Fee

0-5

£125

£250

6-20

£167

£542

21-49

£208

£708

50+

POA

POA

     

         Additional Premises: £187 pa per additional premises
         Additional Trading Styles: £125 pa per additional trading style

  1. The conduct of businesses continues to be monitored throughout their membership, and while there may be occasion when a dispute arises between a BWC member and a customer, the public can expect any problems to be dealt with fairly. In the unlikely event that a dispute cannot be resolved, consumers can be reassured that the assistance of Trading Standards is available and mediation can be offered to reach a mutual agreement. BWC does not assess quality standards or guarantee workmanship but in order to help protect consumers a business must evidence that they have the required insurance for their practices and, where appropriate, are licensed, qualified, trained and accredited.
  2. While the BWC proves to be particularly popular with traditional trades people conducting work at residents' homes (for example builders, plumbers, electricians and tilers), the scheme is open to all trade sectors including retail outlets. In England, the BWC concept has been refined for specific sectors such as care homes through the BWC Care plus scheme. There is potential for using a subset of BWC in this way to recognise responsible practitioners and isolate the rogues in safety critical areas such as body piercing and tattooing.
  3. Local authorities running local BWC initiatives have the support of the national co-ordinator in administration of the scheme. This includes:-

         a)      BWC branding

         b)      Marketing

         c)      Enquiry handling and advice

         d)      Website administration

         e)      Updates for member businesses including changes in the law applicable to them

         f)       central signposting to local schemes via the www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk website.

 

In return, the national co-ordinators levy an annual charge on local scheme operators of £15 per local member. So the operator of a local scheme with one hundred members would pay the national co-ordinators £1,500 per year.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. A local BWC scheme offers potential benefits for both residents and local businesses. In order to be successful a local scheme would require a critical mass of members, and to secure this would require officer time and administrative support to attract interest, deal with applications, inspect, audit, deal with any complaints and document.
  2. National estimates for the running of BWC suggests the following indicative costings:-

Timing

Activity

Resource required

Year 1 only

Desktop audit

3 hours per application

Year 1 only

Credit check

£13 per application

Year 1 only

Audit visit

2.5 hours per application

     

Year 2 onwards

Annual re-audit cost

1.5 hours per member per year

Each year of membership

Scheme operator fee

£15 per member per year

Each year of membership

Dealing with complaints

1 hour per member per year

 

  1. In order to ascertain the level of interest in participating in the scheme and the likely resource required, it is proposed that BWC is run as a 6 month pilot exercise across the SRS region. If successful, a formal launch of the scheme would follow in the new financial year 2018-19. There are a number of options for structuring the pilot exercise, including restricting to a particular trade sector or piloting among existing Primary Authority companies as added value to these partnerships.
  2. Residents' purchasing power is not restricted to within local authority boundaries and having a broader footprint for BWC beyond the SRS region would be of additional benefit to residents and businesses alike. If the scheme is successful, there may be potential to expand the scheme across the Cardiff City Deal region of ten Local Authority areas

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. While officer time and administrative support will be needed to set up the scheme initially, providing there is sufficient interest and uptake, the scheme should become self-funding in the second year and thereafter. As such, there are no adverse resource implications for the service if it is progressed.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. There are no immediate sustainability or climate change concerns associated with this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. BWC has been tried and tested elsewhere with well over 5,000 businesses now members; to date no adverse legal implications have been identified

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. There are no immediate crime and disorder implications associated with this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. There are no anticipated equal opportunities implications associated with this report. The Shared Service will ensure that its enforcement activity reflects this position and is in keeping with the Equality Statements and Policies of the participant Authorities. All BWC literature would be provided bilingually; these translations have already been developed and funded by another Local Authority.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. The launch of a local BWC initiative brings benefits to both residents and local businesses. As such, it links with the participant Authorities' stated objectives which are reflected in the Shared Regulatory Service themes of 'Supporting Business', 'Improving health and wellbeing', and 'Maximising the use of resources''

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. The key service and improvement objectives contained in the SRS Business Plan identify and link to the Corporate Plans of each Council. This proposal is focused upon the environment, health and wellbeing maximising resources components of the plan. It is intended that the adopted Scrutiny regime will engage in the review and developments of plans, policies and strategies that support the corporate objectives of each Council.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. No specific consultation has been undertaken in relation to this report.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. The SRS is currently scrutinised through the arrangements in place at each partner Council.

Background Papers

None

Contact Officer

Helen Picton, Operational Manager

Officers Consulted

Corporate Director, Bridgend County Borough Council

Director of Environment, City of Cardiff Council

Director of Environment and Housing Services, Vale of Glamorgan

Accountant, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Legal Services, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Head of Shared Regulatory Services

Responsible Officer:

Miles Punter - Director of Environment and Housing

 

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