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Brexit: consumer needs must be front and centre

Brexit westminster

Plans for the UK’s departure from the European Union are now underway. While the government is setting up an all-business forum to consider the needs of the economy, we’re concerned the voice of consumers isn’t being heard.

Writing in The Times today, I’ve again pressed for David Davis, as the reappointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, to consider the important role consumers should play in the Brexit negotiations.

Sir,

During the financial crisis of 2009, Which? established the Future of Banking Commission to give consumers, who had been ignored despite paying the price in bailouts and austerity measures, a voice at the heart of the debate. That Commission was chaired by David Davis MP.

Today, eight years on, Mr Davis has created a business forum designed to ensure that the Government’s negotiating position on Brexit reflects the needs of the economy. However, the voice of consumers, who not only voted for Brexit but will also pay the bills and feel the effects, is once again missing despite the fact that consumer confidence is what is keeping our economy growing.

Mr Davis now has the opportunity to remember the vision that led him to produce that important report on banking. To ensure consumer needs are front and centre in the negotiations, he should now invite consumer representatives, such as Which?, to join this critical forum.

Peter Vicary-Smith
Chief Executive
Which?

Have your say

Do you think that consumers are being appropriately represented in the Brexit negotiations? Should Which? and other consumer representatives have a role in this business forum?

Comments
Guest
Allen Williams says:
7 July 2017

It is perfectly simple. Business is pressurizing the Government over the terms of Brexit; so should consumer organizations. The view of business is rarely congruent with that of the consumer. The consumer wants quality products at low prices, whereas business wants the least disruption possible to their existing trading links, and will ignore consumer interests which lie with the expanded international free trade that should follow leaving the EU.

Guest

I agree with your analysis Allen.

The bottom line is that in a capitalist system, sorry to introduce the term, we need to have successful companies selling goods and employing workers [consumers].

Civil servants, journalists, newscasters etc produce no outputs of value but can exist because the money pump to pay for them is production and services that we can sell internally and to the world.

We have to be realistic about this simple fact – trade is what pays. Who pays calls the tune .

The role of Which? or other charities cannot be to sit at the top table and be part of the solution presented to the people [us]. What charities need to do is draw the lines in the sand when the Government tries to use the Brexit negotiations as an excuse for attacking the NHS , or worsening protective laws.

Part of the line-drawing is surely to educate the public on the potential outcomes and dangers. In this respect Which? was a total failure when TTIP was a possibility and Brussels swarmed with company lobbyists Which? said nowt.

I very much fear that getting too close to Govt. may weaken severely the ability to criticise openly when and if there are unacceptable moves that adversely affect consumers.

Guest

I cannot see why it is necessary to discriminate between charities and other organisations that represent consumer interests.Personally,I find continuing references to ‘the charity’ [i.e. Which?] distracting and confusing. I understand the implications of a charitable structure and its obligations but I don’t see that as being especially relevant in this discussion. There are various organisations with charitable, non-charitable, ethical, friendly, voluntary, not-for-profit status,and in other ways independent of government, that can contribute , and if we are not careful they will take Which?’s seat at any table.

I am also not sure of what “getting too close to Govt.” implies. This is about trying to get a place at “a business forum designed to ensure that the Government’s negotiating position on Brexit reflects the needs of the economy“. The Which? CEO says the Secretary of State “should now invite consumer representatives, such as Which?, to join this critical forum“. “Critical” in both senses of the word I hope. I don’t think this stance is evidence of any complicity with the government. Which? can take its own minutes of any meeting and challenge any spin or misrepresentation that might be put on the discussions.

Guest

JW-

Firstly . As you may know the ability for charities to be active in a “political” way has been affected by recent legislation which does make them different from the other variety of groups you describe but do not elucidate who they actually are. I am a little surprised you do not add that MP’s should also be representing consumer interests.

Secondly. “and if we are not careful they will take Which?’s seat at any table.” If you recall the Government got Which? to chair a committee on Direct Marketing which eventually produced a toothless report which seemed more to represent the views of the Direct Marketing industry rather than that of consumers .

The desire to be seen as important seems to be the main driver for this letter. Surely a rational man would see that the chances of affecting the negotiations are laughfully unlikely inside the system and Which? is better off outside being able to criticise as the leaks appear rather than stifled from commenting as an insider to the process.

In case it helps appreciate the immediate threats I would suggest bouncing into a trade treaty with the US a la TTIP is perhaps the most immediate danger to the British consumer.

Guest

Thanks, Patrick.

Guest

Much of our industry has been moved to other European countries with EU money for which we should be getting compensation as part of the negotiations.

One thing the government should be doing is getting industry working in this country again and importantly, British owned. We should not be relying on trade deals to support ourselves but creating products that we and other countries want, training and jobs for the unemployed, employment in areas of high unemployment, giving people back their dignity and hope for the future.

Guest

Agree on the industry Alfa , in my view to have any chance of making this country “Great” again it isn’t running it as a service industry but as an industrialized country and, sorry I keep bringing this up, that goes entirely against the “ethics ” of the City and big banks . You will notice on this Brexit convo the number of posters who say just that. Your comment that — giving people back their Dignity and Hope for the future is a Classic and should be framed and put in the entrance to the Houses of Parliament , as MP,s who SHOULD be representing US walk in because that is at the heart and soul of every decent Briton in this country

Guest

I would love to see a return to the days when every washing machine, television, motor car, and piece of furniture, as well as all the linens, clothing and accessories for domestic life were produced here, plus all the machine tools and equipment for factories, offices and shops. Wouldn’t we all? But nobody has come up with the slightest idea of how we can achieve that .

Unfortunately, the decision to outsource so much of our consumption was taken by British traders and retailers, designers and manufacturers who saw an easy way out from difficult labour forces, outdated plant and equipment, high wages and tax obligations, and a generally inflexible industrial infrastructure.

Today the manufacturing industries we are left with, apart from a number of hi-tech concerns whose primary stock-in-trade is intellectual property rather than the hardware, are those where the goods are too heavy or bulky to economically shift half way round the world, like building materials,or, like foodstuffs, have rapid turnover and use home-grown ingredients, or like pharmaceuticals, are closely linked to the U K’s research strengths. Most of the rest of ‘heavy’ industry is fabrication and assembly using imported components.

Even entrepreneurs who have developed British products and manufactured them here have transferred production overseas [Dyson, for example].

Having said all that, there is still a surprisingly large industrial and manufacturing base in the UK but it is not concentrated in massive plants employing thousands of workers so it does not have the profile of our historical background. But that was a time when we had Commonwealth countries and colonies that would, before we joined the EU, instinctively buy British capital goods in return for our buying their wool, butter, fruit, meat, vegetables, cotton, coffee and tea.