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Vince Cable: ‘Getting the fair deal you deserve’

In his second guest post for our site, Business Secretary Vince Cable reviews how the Government is tackling regulation to improve the rail networks, the energy market and shopping at your local supermarket…

The Government has made some important changes to the competition regime and the consumer landscape over the last year. Together with the Consumer Rights Bill, which is currently before Parliament, we are working to build consumer confidence by making sure that consumers know their rights, and that businesses are clear about what is expected of them. Clarity and fairness sit at the very heart of our approach.

One result is the new Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which started in full a month ago today. The CMA has enhanced powers, faster decision making processes, and will be able to work better with sectoral regulations to revitalise competition in markets and deliver greater benefits for consumers.

Building consumer confidence

Consumers are not really interested in the detail of competition law or regulatory processes. What matters most to them are lower bills, good customer service and having their complaints dealt with quickly and efficiently. That is why we are tackling these important issues.

Gas and electricity prices are good examples of problems caused by consumer confusion – consumers are faced with more than 350 tariffs and mind boggling bills. There is plenty going on in this area. The joint CMA and Ofgem review into the state of competition in the energy market has identified five areas that need to be looked at. This includes the rising profits for the Big Six that don’t appear to be based on greater efficiency and what barriers there are to market entry and expansion for new companies. This would not have happened without the new collaborative approach that we have been championing.

Ofgem is now consulting on whether it refers these issues to the CMA for a full market investigation.

Reducing regulated rail fair rises

As well as stimulating competition we are also helping consumers in other key areas such as winter fuel payments, rail fares and the relationship between supermarkets and their suppliers.

In addition, we have pledged over £16bn for the rail industry to improve capacity and the quality of the network. As a regular train commuter from my home in Twickenham I am well aware of the frustration about the continued rise in fares and the impact on family budgets. That is why for 2014 we have reduced regulated fair rises to RPI.

Finally, we have introduced the Groceries Supply Code of Practice which is overseen by an adjudicator – Christine Tacon. Her role is to arbitrate in disputes between the 10 largest supermarket chains and their suppliers. She will also have the power to impose fines and to name and shame supermarkets that breach the code.

Together these steps are going to make a real difference for consumers and make sure they are getting the fair deal they deserve.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – all opinions expressed here are Vince’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


What’s being done to get supermarkets to display unit prices on promotions, the legislation I can find online all seems to leave it up the supermarket to decide on whether they should display a unit price.

Surely they should NOT be given a choice.


As Vince has said – and we all know – energy pricing is confusing and often consumers stay with the same supplier even if better deals are available.

Please can we have simple unit pricing like we have for petrol, so that it is easy to compare prices.


Simple unit pricing for gas and electricity would introduce simple competition between the energy suppliers-it is as simple as that. The energy companies know this and they don’t want it to happen so legislation is needed to make it happen. This issue is likely be important at the next general election.

Marg says:
8 May 2014

I switched energy company from British Gas to Npower after consulting 4 compare sites.
Npower came top on all sites. I phoned Npower and they assured me that my energy bill would remain fixed through until August 2014. At the end of 2013 they announced price rises which I assumed would not affect me. Wrong! I received a letter saying the cost of my energy will rise. I phoned the company asking what was going on as I had joined them with a fixed deal. They informed me it wasn’t fixed but the increase in price would still be below their standard unit price and doubted that I was told my deal was fixed. I demanded that a copy of the telephone conversation was found. Npower came back to me to say they were very sorry that the phone conversation had been deleted but they would offer a £100 for my distress.

I am still with Npower as I cannot see any point in switching when these people pull stunts like I have described. Hearing MP’s and the like blaming the electorate for not switching energy suppliers is at best a JOKE and at worst they are in bed with the suppliers


And returning to supermarket bashing.

BOGOFs and other forms of multi-buys should be banned and replaced with single item discounts. So a BOGOF simply becomes 50% off. I’ll leave you to do the maths on the myriad of other forms of multi-buys.

I’d also like to see that if you order items online at one price then that’s the price you pay when the item is delivered, and not the current in-store price when the order was packaged. Unless they show you at the time you order what the price will be.

And where the online price is specific to online shopping ( I know ASDA do this on some items), they should be forced to state that online. So you don’t see a price, think oh I’m going passed an ASDA I’ll buy it there to save shipping charges and 20 mins later you ask an assistant is this the correct price ? As this isn’t the price online, well that would be a special online only price, grrrrrrr


“£16bn spending on the railway industry to improve capacity and quality of the network.”

Sam’s report clearly demonstrates some of the dire conditions that commuters are facing on a daily basis. I hope that amount will not be used by throwing good money after bad on old outdated rolling stock, propping up an already outdated system.

Where can you find a system where average delays equal 36 seconds with a 3 minute headway between trains,16 cars to each train, a 1,323 safe, spacious and airy seating capacity, 13 trains per hour, 16% of the carbon dioxide equivalent journey by car, a saving of 15,000 tons of CO2 per year?

HS2 – or does this remain just a distant pipe dream. Commuters want value for money, lets not waste it on outdated policies and ideas.

Michael Mason says:
2 May 2014

…and in a decade’s time when (as in France and Spain) all that has happened is that the economic drift to London has accelerated and house prices have doubled, we can blame the short sightedness of today’s MPs and look for new money to build lines connecting the north west and north east.


Every day a new announcement: “The Parliamentary train now standing in a siding in London is the delayed 2010 departure for The North. It is now expected to arrive at The Midlands at 2026 where there will be a connexion to The North at approximately 2033. Passengers wishing to take this service are requested to get on board now.” “We apologise for the delay to this service which is due to objectors along the line and a signal failure at Westminster. Please familiarise yourselves with the emergency procedures displayed throughout the train.”

If I’m lucky, I shall be a nonagenarian by the time the new line opens all the way to Leeds but I still hope I shall be able to travel on it at least once and get something back for the taxes I pay towards it. The Parliamentary process seems to take as long as building the tunnels and track. I am always amazed at how we managed to build hundreds of military airfields in just a few years during WW2.