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.
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?.