Bring on the savvy consumers

10th October 2008 at 01:00
A scheme to raise awareness of trading standards is boosting young citizens' sense of rights and responsibilities. Claire Walker reports

Better, more savvy, streetwise consumers are what the Trading Standards Institute hopes to produce through its annual competition for secondary pupils.

"They can pass their new-found knowledge on to their friends and families," says Lindsay Grant, senior education officer with Edinburgh City Council and co-ordinator of the Young Consumer of the Year programme in Scotland.

More savvy? You'd better believe it. Greg Smith was on the Portobello High team when it won the UK title in 2007. He took what he had learnt very much to heart.

"It's stuff you can use in day-to-day life," he says. "I used it when I was returning stuff to a shop. They were trying to fob me off, trying not to give me my money. I quoted them the law and got my money back."

Greg also mentioned that he was a Young Consumer of the Year. That might have clinched matters.

But the impact of the programme is wider than learning how to handle recalcitrant retail staff. Greg is about to embark on an accountancy degree at Napier University, and attributes his interest in finance to what he learned on the subject during his time on Young Consumers.

About a dozen of Scotland's 32 local authorities take part in the programme, but Ms Grant says that's not enough. "I am keen to see this expanded as much as possible," she says. "It can be a great vehicle to get across important and relevant consumer information to a potentially vulnerable sector of society."

Alex Jones, an Edinburgh education officer, delivers the programme for 14- to 18-year-olds in the capital's schools. He says that, in each school interested in the consumer educationYoung Consumer programme, there is a teacher who will convene the group. If the delivery of the programme can be done in a timetabled period, "so much the better".

In other schools, it can be tacked on to the end of the school day or at lunchtimes, which can tarnish its appeal to some pupils.

"It is vital to have a teacher who is committed to the educational input and who is prepared to advertise for volunteers within the school," says Mr Jones.

Stephen Reid, depute headteacher at Portobello High, has commitment in spades. "It takes a bit of effort, but it is the students' enthusiasm that drives it forward," he says.

His school gives the programme a high profile. "We're all consumers, after all," he says. "The more you know about your rights and responsibilities, the better. Being an educated consumer is better for everyone - there's less chance of being fobbed off with shoddy andor fake goods, and manufacturers know this."

Indeed, the programme includes a section on fake and dangerous goods and how to spot them. Faulty wiring and loose battery covers in toys, for example, can be extremely hazardous, and not just to children.

Counterfeiting has another sinister side, as Catriona Patterson, captain of the 2008 Portobello team, explains. "It's a moral issue," she says. "The money is not going to the people who produced the goods. It's organised crime that profits from it."

Ambar Pankaj captained the 2008 UK runners-up, Boroughmuir High. "My favourite part was getting to know my team-mates and our mentor Alex Jones - amazing people I would not have got to know otherwise," he says.

"The experience was fantastic because we went through it together. I also loved the competition itself - the intensity of it all. It was the best experience I had last year."


Young Consumers is now in its 23rd year, and Scotland has done well in the UK final in recent years.

2006 winners: Boroughmuir High (the first Scottish win in the competition's history)

2007 winners: Portobello High

2008 runners-up: Boroughmuir High

Sample questions

1. Name the government body responsible for food safety.

2. Toys with small, detachable parts must not be sold to children under what age?

3. What do the initials BSI stand for in terms of product safety?

4. An AVC is a means to top up a pension, but what do the initials AVC stand for?


1. Food Standards Agency

2. Three years

3. British Standards Institution

4. Additional Voluntary Contribution.

Preparations are beginning for this year's competition. The 2009 final will be held at the Brighton Centre, June 30-July 2.


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