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Businesses Need Free Fast Advice

I have just come off the phone with a very helpful lady at the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB - staffed by volunteers - bless 'em all). As a business mentor I needed a quick piece of advice from Trading Standards (the government department responsible for making sure businesses in the UK trade within the law). The only phone number you can find on the web for advice is a call centre designed exclusively for consumers. The first two options on their IVR greeting is for utility supplies, the third and final option is 'anything else'. Naturally I got "All our operators are busy, but leave your name and number and we'll call you back...".

So when she called me the next morning I briefly explained the issue my client is experiencing. She stopped me and said the CAB are only able to offer advice to consumers, not businesses. She then gave me a number for Surrey Trading Standards who apparently will give me an hours free consultation and then charge me £67 for subsequent time. Fair enough. Apparently the deal depends on which part of the country you're in. Why not one charging  policy for all you might think?

I've not yet called them yet. But that's not the point of this gromble. I wanted advice about whether a trading practice was legal or not. Nothing more. Had my query led to a request for action from an official, that's another matter. But the fact that there's no national helpline for business advice about Trading Standards is a nonsense. My (trying to be) helpful CAB lady told me the advice they provide to the odd business caller is 'speak to a solicitor'. But all I wanted was advice on helping my client to ensure he was trading within the law. Lawyers I am sure would love to make money out this, but my client is a tiny start-up business who shouldn't have to pay for quick and simple advice to help him start trading. Anything more complicated and he either pays his local Trading Standards chaps, or indeed a solicitor. But surely not for the answer to a quick 'can I, or can't I...?' question.

So my point is, Mr Cable, instead of making it hard (depending on where you live) for businesses to obtain free, consistent advice about the legalities of trading in the UK, why not aggregate all the regional helplines under a central number (using sensible telecoms, you don't need to congregate the people). If you need some financial support for it, perhaps an 0870 or even higher rate number would be acceptable (the call revenue might cover a proportion of the costs). And publish that number for business advice on your Trading Standards website instead of restricting it to consumer information.

Make doing business easy! Perhaps then you'll reach that holy grail of growth we all sorely need.

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