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What is the Consumer Scotland Bill?

Today, the Scottish Government published the Consumer Scotland Bill. Our guest, Jamie Hepburn MSP, explains what it will mean for Scottish consumers.

This is a guest post by Jamie Hepburn MSP. All views expressed are Jamie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Like everyone else, I get frustrated when I’ve spent money on something, only to feel the service or quality falls below the standard I expected.

As the Minister responsible for consumer policy, I recognise this can have consequences for whole groups of people and negatively impact individual lives in serious and long-lasting ways.

The Scottish Government is working hard to make sure we respond to that. We want consumers to have a strong voice to represent them and use their own voices to push for change.

Today, the Scottish Parliament published the Consumer Scotland Bill, which is a significant step in our journey to achieving that vision.

What are Scotland’s key issues?

Many of Scotland’s issues are the same as for consumers across the UK. However we have devolved markets, such as health and legal services, where it’s important that the devolved context is taken into account.

We also have some demographic differences such as a higher portion of people living in rural areas. That means the kind of damage consumers may suffer might be the same in Scotland as it is across the UK, but the scale of it can be higher.

Take a look at the Which? Consumer Insight Report for Scotland 2019

Finally, we want to try something new. Consumer advocacy has delivered many successes, but it hasn’t changed in recent years, even though consumers, businesses and regulators have.

So Consumer Scotland will be an investigatory body as much as an advocacy one. It will be evidence-led and build strong partnerships with consumer groups, regulators and third sector organisations to seek collaborative solutions to complex problems. And it’ll do much more to ensure the consumer voice shapes its work.

We’ve already laid some groundwork for this, with our Customer Forum, which gets consumer representatives involved in the five year price reviews for water.

We’ve also been working in energy. Our recently announced independent Energy Commission for Scotland will give Scottish consumers a more powerful voice in Scottish and British energy policy. Consumer Scotland will build on these examples and work to extend the concept into other areas, such as financial services.

Involvement of public authorities

Public authorities need to play a role, too. The decisions public authorities make in Scotland often affect consumers. This will increasingly be the case as we tackle some of our most difficult challenges, such as the climate emergency.

Policies to tackle these issues will only work if consumers support them, so we have to fully understand how consumers will be affected. Requiring public authorities to consider the consumer impacts of their decisions is one important way of ensuring that happens.

Publishing the Bill is a first step. There’s a lot of work ahead to understand what it will mean in practice. We’ll be working with consumer and regulatory experts to do that, but we’d like your feedback too.

What consumer issues have you been affected by that you think Consumer Scotland should take on?

This was a guest post by Jamie Hepburn MSP. All views expressed were Jamie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

Thank you for this post. You certainly have your work cut out. Two things come immediately to mind:

1 – “Many of Scotland’s issues are the same as for consumers across the UK. However we have devolved markets, such as health and legal services, where it’s important that the devolved context is taken into account.” “Markets” and “health service” certainly *do not* belong in the same sentence. Patients are patients, not customers.

2 – You mention the “climate emergency”, but the Scottish Government is currently *consulting* on fracking – so no real ban there – and also a new terminal has just been opened at Edinburgh Airport, which “will future-proof the airport for continued growth” (https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/new-terminal-opened-at-edinburgh-airport/10042940.article). This won’t help the climate any.

Kevin says:
6 June 2019

Patients may be patients but they are also consumers. Consider the provision of private health facilities for eg cosmetic surgery and those ‘going’ private for hips etc. In addition, health boards need to be held to account, to a higher standard than private companies, particularly where they may be complicit in the provision of private services via their employees, such as orthopaedic surgeons doing private hip ops.

As for fracking, this is a massive inconsistency in policy while we continue to develop other offshore oil and gas reserves. It’s no more ‘dangerous’ than conventional oil and gas development, the issue should be on maintaining proper engineering standards in the fracking process. I’d strongly argue we’re better off with domestic production of gas rather than relying on imports from countries like Russia, or the middle east, which we’re likely to need for the medium term as domestic production runs down.

I don’t understand, when we have a United Kingdom, why the “authorities” don’t all work together on a united policy, rather than apparently duplicating work. I appreciate some differences exist but these could be embodied.

Wales and NI have maybe more rural communities, and different demographics occur through all parts of the UK. I don’t see that as unique to Scotland.

What we all need is an organisation that properly polices consumer problems and penalises those who break the regulations in a way that makes it no longer worthwhile.

More important, in my view, than publishing more bills. Spend the time and effort on creating action, not more words.We now have an Office for product safety and standards. What has that achieved?

100% agree with you malcolm, we are one nation and should be working together, not wasting money on duplicating efforts, or is that the whole point, and they are working towards segregation.

Sooner or later, I expect that the demographics of NI will change to the point where it chooses to leave the UK and join the rest of Ireland.

Also, if Brexit goes ahead, then Scotland might choose to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.

If those events take place, then Wales might also be motivated to seek greater autonomy.

pa says:
7 June 2019

What’s the difference between fraud and a customer service issue in Scottish law?

If you get sold something that was misdescribed or over described for benefits, quality or performance, where does the law say that’s not only a refund or replace issue but actual fraud for which someone can go to jail or be fined?

And if there is a difference between the two, why is there? Because if you didn’t get what you paid for, shouldn’t that automatically be counted as fraud until the seller can prove otherwise?

pa says:
7 June 2019

Also I hope your bill addresses medical negligence.

An operation when gone wrong can have life changing consequences.