A typical Trading Standards service returns no less than 1,731 pieces of information to the following organisations : The Food Standards Agency, DEFRA, District Audit, Audit Commission, Best Value Inspectors, Office of the Surveillance Commission (RIPA), Community Legal Services, Consumer Support Network, Chartermark, Investors in People, National Weights and Measure Laboratory, Inter Authority Auditing, Quality Assurance Auditors, Business Excellence/EFQM Auditors, Cabinet Office (Enforcement Concordat), Office of Fair Trading, National Performance Framework.

I am grateful to the Trading Standards officer who took the time to count them.

Imagine the time dedicated to form-filling, adding no value to peoples’ work. When you consider how small many Trading Standards departments are, it is probable that there are more people engaged in the specifications and monitoring factory sitting over Trading Standards, than there are doing the work. One extraordinary example of the bureaucracy is the requirement to report on visits, as the box below shows, there are thirty ways to count visits:

How many ways to count a visit?

Trading Standards people visit various premises. In doing so they are obliged to count visits to premises in no less than thirty different ways:

1.   Percentage premises visited – metrological purpose (National Performance Framework)
2.   Percentage premises visited – all purposes (National Performance Framework)
3.   Total visits – metrological purposes (National Performance Framework)
4.   Total visits – all purposes (National Performance Framework & CIPFA)
5.   Percentage of inspections with actionable infringement (National PI)
6.   Percentage of risk assessed premises received primary visit based on standardised visit frequencies (National PI)
7.   Total number of enforcement visits to trade premises liable for inspection (National PI)
8.   Percentage of premises (high/medium/low) receiving at least one enforcement visit (National PI)
9.    Average number of visits (any trade premises) per field officer (National PI)
10.   Average number of visits per high/medium risk premises (Statutory PI 1999/2000 & benchmarking)
11.  Number of inspections – Animal Health (divided into 11 categories) (Animal Health Return)
12.  Number of primary visits to high risk premises (CIPFA & benchmarking)
13.  Number of primary visits to medium risk premises (CIPFA)
14.  Number of primary visits to lower risk premises (CIPFA)
15.  Total number of primary visits to premises with inspectional risk (CIPFA)
16.  Average number of inspections per high/medium risk premises (benchmarking)
17.  Number of inspections to high risk premises (benchmarking)
18.  Number of inspections to medium risk premises (benchmarking)
19.  Number of inspections to low risk premises (benchmarking)
20.  Number of premises inspected (primary inspection) (benchmarking & annual/quarterly returns)
21.  Primary visit rate (food premises) (benchmarking)
22.  Percentage food premises inspected resulting in action (benchmarking)
23.  Number of primary visits to high risk food premises (FSA Annual return)
24.  Number of primary visits to medium risk food premises (FSA Annual return)
25.  Number of primary visits to low risk food premises (FSA Annual return)
26.  Number of primary visits to negligible risk food premises (FSA Annual return)
27.  Number of primary visits to non rated risk food premises (FSA Annual return)
28.  Number of visits (all types) to food premises (FSA Annual return)
29.  Number of premises visited for Hallmarking Act (Hallmarking Act return)
30.  Percentage of planned visits completed (National Performance Framework)

[First published in ‘Systems Thinking in the Public Sector’, 2008]