/ Money

Prime Minister May must restore trust to deliver a better deal for consumers

Theresa May

Our recent research has highlighted peoples’ fears over the economy. More than half of households expect it to get worse over the next 12 months. That’s more than double a year ago…

So it’s clear one of the many jobs our new Prime Minister has to do is to help build consumer confidence and restore trust in key markets, like energy, banking and rail, if we’re to have a strong economy.

Will Theresa May be pro-consumer?

Will Theresa May be a pro-consumer Prime Minister? Well as Home Secretary she rarely strayed outside her brief but indications are promising.

In her leadership speech at the start of this week she committed to tackling the governance of big businesses and announced plans to put consumers on company boards.

Her pledge to ‘use and reform competition law so that markets work better for people’ attracted less media attention but included a notable promise to address highly consolidated markets, such as utilities and retail banking.

This is a welcome commitment, given that our research also found that people’s trust in industries to act in their best interest has also declined by an average of 12% over the last year.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Which? champion, the Conservative Deputy Chair and MP for Harlow, Rob Halfon, claims that May will be an advocate of a more socially responsible capitalism.

Halfon has determinedly pursued energy companies and petrol price hikes and sees our new PM as someone who will take on so-called ‘crony capitalism’, something also echoed in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday.

Taking on ‘crony capitalism’

Back in 2013, Theresa May pointed to this in her speech to a ConservativeHome conference. I remember at the time being struck by her commitment to tackle vested interests wherever they’re found. In the speech, she called for action to tackle the ‘appalling absence of care at Mid-Staffordshire hospital’ and ‘the treatment of elderly people at care homes like Winterbourne View’ – something that Which? has sought to address through our Make Complaints Count campaign.

And she also said that the Government should tackle businesses who ‘abuse their market position to keep prices high’ and ‘companies at the less scrupulous end of the credit industry (that) prey on the poorest and most vulnerable families’.

With our research revealing recently that unarranged overdrafts can cost you even more than a payday loan, perhaps our new Prime Minister will back action to tackle punitive bank charges.

Theresa May and Brexit

So there is good cause to hope that consumer issues will be a key part of a May premiership. They’ll certainly need to be central to her biggest challenge – negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU.

It’s vital that Brexit delivers for all consumers. This means ensuring that important rights and benefits, such as cheaper data roaming in other countries, compensation arrangements for flight delays and protecting food safety, are maintained during the negotiations – but also that as we gain new freedoms from EU laws, consumers reap the benefits.

It is also important that Theresa May recognises that a pro-consumer agenda will be a pro-growth agenda. We’ve seen big drops in consumer trust in essential markets, such as rail, energy and banking. That’s why reforms to these important sectors cannot be put on hold as we work out our future relationship with Brussels.

The new Prime Minister has a great opportunity to put consumers right at the heart of her agenda. This is a big ask. But if she can live up to her recent rhetoric, then we can have confidence that empowering and protecting consumers will be a pivotal part of our new Prime Minister’s plans.

Comments
Guest
Robert Harman says:
6 August 2016

I voted to join the Common Market, free trade area. It was a no brainer. What I didn’t know and wasn’t told by Edward Heath was, he knew and negotiated in advance that we were to be a part of a political European Union, common currency with a federal Govt and all that it entailed. Had that been known, the UK would never have voted to join the ‘Common Market’, with its minimum economic convergence criteria for new joiners being ignored. The French were justifiably paranoid about Germany and a Third World war, and an EU federal construct seemed to be an opportunity to head off that possibility. Morphing the EU was fully intended to be a one way path, constructed in such a way to make it difficult for any member to leave. I understand the Maastrict ratification was nodded through for the UK joining the EU political structure and was never put to the UK voters, because we would have said no, and derailed the EU leviathan. We remained outside the Euro currency as a sop by our politicians to steer us in. Since then, the EU has not had a successful audit since its inception, and auditors who refuse to sign off get dismissed by the Commission ( An EU Enron scenario, don’t give us a clean bill of health and we dump you ) on that basis alone, we know its corrupt ( eg. Bank of Reconstruction and Reconciliation ) as it can’t and wont account for tax payers money, and is a colossal waste of money ( switching EU parliament locations annually ) . The Euro currency is a sick and failing political construct because any poor economy can join. It would have worked had the economic convergence bar been applied. It could have been so different, what an amazing opportunity missed by politicians of all sides who were so distant from their voters, troughing at tax payers expense. EU politicians thought they were untouchable and didn’t have to listen, as did ours in Westminster. Even at the late hour Prime Minister Cameron tried to enlighten them to the danger of the second largest financial contributor leaving the EU, they wouldn’t reform even then. Their hubris is their downfall. Our MP’s can be removed if they don’t deliver. I do believe that the EU will never get agreement on any thorny issue as there are too many countries whose own priorities diverge. Such a pity, such an opportunity missed. We now need our politicians and media and to view this as a new opportunity and stop talking the UK down. If our MP’s don’t accept or can’t handle the challenge their electorate has set them, lets vote some in that can.

Guest
Alan says:
6 August 2016

I will deal with one point – one of so many. The EU have not listened, you say – they will lose their second largest contributor when we leave. No they won’t – they will easily recover in tariffs what they have lost in revenue. A 10% tariff will be imposed on car imports into Europe, for example. “They won’t do that!” scream the Brexiters, “they won’t want to pay more for our cars.” Not so – by voting Brexit we gave ourselves a pay cut equal to or greater than the 10% – just look at the exchange rates, which have fallen for a reason and my well fall further.

They will still have their cars and their contribution from us, and we will have less of everything – we have shot ourselves in the foot.

Guest
David says:
7 August 2016

Spot on !! and on top of that it will take us 15-20 years to dig ourselves out of this mess.

Guest
Gwladys says:
8 August 2016

Except that they sell more to us than we do to them – so 10% tarriffs all ’round would actually make us better off, as things stand. However, I’m sure an agreement can be reached that works better than that for everyone – if there’ll even be an EU to make such an agreement with!

Guest
Colin says:
8 August 2016

Much more that it will take 15-20 years for the full impact of Brexit to be felt.

Guest
james hyam says:
10 August 2016

you will be proved completely wrong,the benefits of leaving will be for all to see,may take a few years,be patient.

Guest

Our main problem is sulking Remainers. They refuse to accept the Brexit result but would have expected Remain to have been instantly accepted. None of them know what will happen next, therefore, they are making it up to scare Brexit voters. That is how very young children and bad-tempered adults behave when they don’t get their own way. I prefer to be in charge of my destiny, financial or otherwise, not told what we ALL must do.

Guest
Peter van der Mark says:
15 August 2016

Have you ever made honest tallies of the good versus the bad issues that the EU represented for Britain? It is so easy to sit there being smug about poor Britain and bad nasty faceless etc. EU. Maybe it is people like you who will have to look back in a couple of year’s time to see that the EU after all was not so bad at all for Britain, especially in the less well-endowed places such as the North, Wales and Cornwall (as they are in the poorer places in Eastern Europe, as I saw during trips there). Even if all the wild plans about blazing economic wins for Britain, as bandied about in the run-up to that hapless Brexit farce, come to fruition, the fact will be that Britain didn’t earn what she potentially could have earned as an EU member and that Britain no longer has a say about anything that will interfere with her trade with the EU. Besides which the idea that Britain is actually going to quit seems to get less clear by the day.

Guest

Patsy – The Leave campaign was run by intelligent people who I am sure fully appreciated that, in the event of a close finish in favour of leaving the EU, there would be many people who would be disappointed and possibly upset by the Referendum decision. Those leaders also knew that implementation of the decision would not occur overnight and that there would be a transitional period during which the facts rather than the predictions would become apparent. It is perhaps unfortunate that some of those Leave campaign leaders are no longer in a position to influence the way forward for whatever reason, and that it is now left to a largely Remain-based government to achieve the nation’s goals. I am not sure whether the Brexit side’s main problem is in fact the “sulking Remainers” who, so far as I can see, are quietly getting on with it. A bigger problem is possibly that the chief Leave people seem to have left. Since none of us can see into the future there is no point in saying that people are “making it up to scare Brexit voters” – everybody knows that only time will tell what will happen next so no sensible person will take any notice of fantasy predictions. Some of the expert predictions, however, are resolving with every passing day and must be taken fully into account on the road ahead; to do otherwise would be irresponsible.

Guest
Mike Harford says:
16 August 2016

We will quit and we will survive and better ourselves out of the EU. Faceless, unelected Despots who do not listen to their people will be the death of the Project and soon. Germany is the only country in the Remaining EU states that is not bankrupt. How can you go on borrowing from =China forever. Wake up and Smell your lazy, Self Indulgent Commissioners who are not doing the job they were placed to do, only feathering their own nests !!!!!!!

Guest
Vera Seaton says:
30 August 2016

We should do as the French do and support our own manufacturing base, buy British. As far as the exchange rate is concerned, the low rate encourages money back into UK, we have been bleeding too much too long.

Guest

That is if we make what we want to buy, of course. Maybe we can encourage industry to return. It would be a nice incentive if honours were awarded to entrepreneurs who make domestic appliances in the UK instead of offshoring manufacture to Malaysia.

However when we a free from the EU we need no longer be frightened about being penalised for branding our products prominently or sticking with home-grown stuff, asking only UK firms to tender for contracts, and otherwise supporting ourselves before others.

Guest

Without our net contribution to the EU we can afford to subsidise our poorer regions even more than the EU did. It is just a question of priorities.

Guest

It is about priorities, but why not use the money for….the NHS?…..better pensions?………better social care?………better mental health provision?………..A potentially long list. Trouble is the money can only be used once. So just what are our priorities? And will that money still be available when we leave the EU? Our economy might shrink, the tax take reduces and all of a sudden the pot has vanished.

Guest

I am against pouring more money into the NHS with its present mismanagement – it is a bottomless sink-hole. The pressing problem is the lack of enough home care and community care resources so that is where any Brexit bonus should go in my opinion. We’ll probably need foreign labour to bring it up to an adequate level though . . .

Guest
Pyghtler says:
6 August 2016

Ludicrous: Let the damn woman get on with sorting the mess out.

Guest
Derek Jacobs says:
6 August 2016

British politicians (all parties) are so ensconced with big business, big profits and outright greed that any attempt to change ‘The System’ will be met with the same project fear used in the referendum campaign to remain. Already visible by relentless media reports (Press and the BBC) and a Bank of England reducing interest rates, such as it be, trying to prove they were correct and the majority were wrong to vote the way it turned out. Their actions are akin to a baby throwing it’s toys out of the pram in a tantrum. We must be punished at all costs. Regardless if there is another way (I’m sure there is – because I’m old enough to remember when it was that way) to bring this country to a self supporting independent governing one again. Any attempt will be buried by the self serving few that have had it so good for so long. We the people must be controlled and made to pay for the elite to continue their superior way of life. To me it is odd that very few money mongers here want to debate another way forward and certainly the failed banks don’t. All have come out without a scratch.
Why then is the question? Are we not intelligent enough to follow straight forward facts if they are presented with proper foundation? Arrogance has become the norm at high levels and I fear it will be a long and hard fight to correct the wrongs that have pervaded for too long now. This especially, because in general terms, a false divide has been created between young and old. Again this so evident in the post referendum campaign. That really is a problem and some common unity might be of use here, but I suspect the media will sabotage any such attempt.

Guest

That’s a thoughtful view of the current situation, although – as Churchill once famously said – “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”.

But I honestly believe it goes a lot deeper than mere selfishness; the entire concept of the EU has changed significantly since it was first introduced but the overriding purpose – to form an organisation of disparate components and countries that would work together and thus avoid the appalling conflicts that ravaged Europe and the world during the preceding 100 years – remains intact and our decision to leave that organisation will, whether we admit it or not, have weakened Europe significantly. I think the real question is how much that matters to the UK and to our children and their children.

Guest
Enrico says:
6 August 2016

Two of my sons work in London for companies owned by French based holdings and one of them has already been told that, as a result of Brexit, they will move their London office somewhere else in Europe.
This is only the tip of the iceberg (this is a software company that had the world wide support based in London) since the major effects will certainly be in the fiancial front!

Guest

I am sure some people will be happy with that consequence, Enrico, as it will release workers to replace the EU migrants of whom they are so afraid. There were warnings that this would happen but they were denounced as ‘project fear’. Aside from the serious personal implications there are the harmful economic effects, again dismissed as scare-mongering. It shows we all have to work really hard and fast to stop the damage to people and the economy and to prevent the situation snow-balling out of control.

Guest
Adrienne says:
6 August 2016

How do we ‘work really hard and fast to stop the damage’? The damage has been done. Brexit is like toothpaste. It won’t go back into the tube!
The referendum, a trick to put David Cameron back into No. 10 has sorely rebounded on us all. The lessons learned are; you win votes by appealing to sentimental self-interest, not logic and there is only One Horseman of the Apocalypse, – population.

Guest

Even before the result of the referendum was known I was seeing encouragement to buy British food. Wherever possible, I do buy British and preferably local fruit, veg and meat. On environmental grounds alone, it make no sense to transport food half way round the world.

It would be good if we could buy household goods made in the UK and sometimes that is possible, but with electrical goods, much of what is on offer – even under familiar brand names – comes from the the far east. There are various reasons that UK and European companies cannot compete. Relatively speaking, our workers are better paid, work in safe conditions and compliance with regulations to protect the environment comes at a cost. I was interested in the plans of Ebac, best known for its dehumidifiers, to launch washing machines make in the north of England. The launch has been delayed and now information about the new machines has been removed from the website. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

Whether we are happy or not with the outcome of the referendum, perhaps now is a good time to think about buying more local produce and encouraging family and friends to do the same.

Guest

There are lots of smaller household products made in the UK that people could choose instead of imports, from towels and bed-linen to cutlery and crockery. There is still a UK furniture industry but unfortunately also a lot of imported flat-packery. There might be a slightly higher price to pay but at least that recirculates into our economy. It would be a good idea if the Confederaton of British Industry and the British Retail Consortium [and other trade bodies] urged their members to make sure they label UK manufactured goods clearly and include it in their advertising so that where there is a choice we could select the home-grown product. A lot of UK goods are, of course, made or assembled from imported materials or components. It would be useful if the UK content ratio was declared. Given the mood of the country right now and the prevailing sentiment this could be a worthwhile commercial move.

People with money burning a hole in their pocket and desirous of making a statement purchase for their home could choose a British carpet rather than an American hot-tub. [Yes . . . I know what you mean . . . but Winter’s on its way]. Apparently, such is the severity of our austerity regime, that hot-tub sales are now down to £450 million a year but – with a concerted effort – we could go lower.

Guest
Colin says:
8 August 2016

It seems very likely that there will be no migrant workers to pick the local fruit and veg in the future, farmers are talking about discontinuing these crops for that reason

Guest

So what is wrong with using local workers to pick the crops – or will the farmers not pay them enough? It seems strange that migrants who not only get paid, but presumably have the costs of travel and accommodation are prepared do something our own workers are not.

It may be then when we leave the EU we will need to look hard at the way we work ?

Guest

Local workers won’t do it – for a variety of reasons. EU E European countries, however, have a long tradition of manual harvesting.

Guest

Ian-local workers wont do it– DWP detectives arresting them for working while unemployed . Plenty of headlines in areas of fruit growth in England and East Scotland . Rounded them up in vans taken secure rooms and interrogated and sanctioned . Europe–no such problem. Check out where the fruit for British jam comes from.

Guest

But this can be solved through the benefits system, by allowing work when it is available to be undertaken in lieu of benefits for that period. We should stop paying people not to work.

The other night I watched a programme about benefits. TV reporting being what it is I take it with a pinch of salt but it portrayed two single people apparently quite capable of working but having a very nice life on £1300 a month benefits. One spent much on alcohol – from a fridge and at the pub. The other was in process of building a sauna in the garden. OK, it may not be representative (well it might, of course 🙁 ) but when that money is handed over tax free, and a state pensioner gets less than half that, and taxable, having worked hard all their life, I see a lot to be done to get equity in the way my taxes and NI are dispensed.

Guest
Terry says:
7 August 2016

I,am sick and tired of all the moaners going on about Brexit Is it, because these moaners ,have had it too good for so long,they have lost there self believe in them selves. That we can’t do the job our selves. I too wanted to join the E.U in the beginning, but over the years the Leaders of the E. U just became a bunch of dictators. Other countries manage to make a living outside of the E.U so why can’t we, all you need is self belief that we can do it. Don’t take any notice of the media they are just a set of muck rakers they will do any thing to sell their news.

Guest
John Davie says:
8 August 2016

I am intrigued by the commentary here. There are some very good and carefully written comments. However this seems to have missed the other half (approximately) of our economy: the rest of the world. It is naïve to assume some elements of the discussion are only about the “EU 27”. This is far more complex than many seem to understand.

As Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. wrote at the start of this month Britain’s exit from the European Union will require not just a single deal, but at least six interlocking sets of negotiations. If the British government wants the talks to run smoothly, it will need to earn the goodwill not only of the countries in the EU, but also of those in the World Trade Organisation.

The negotiations will take much longer and be far more complicated than many British politicians realise. One set of talks will cover Britain’s legal separation from the EU, the second a free trade agreement with the EU, the third interim cover for the UK between its departure from the EU and the entry into force of the FTA. The fourth step will be accession to full membership of the WTO, the fifth new FTAs to replace those that currently link the EU to 53 other countries, and the sixth co-operation on foreign, defence and security policies.

The fourth accord that Britain needs to strike is attaining full World Trade Organisation membership. (Britain is currently a member via the EU.) Full members must deposit ‘schedules’ of tariffs, quotas, subsidies and other concessions on market access with the WTO. The new British schedules would need the approval of all 163 WTO members, since the organisation’s decisions require consensus.

Now the theory!

Given that “Brussels” was created as the epicentre of compromise and to put an end to at least 300 years of Germany and France declaring wars on all an sundry, and to curb the aspirations of future Napoleons or Bismarcks, a compromise will be found. Britain will be out for those that feel out and the people who pay for them will still be in!! We will have some control over our borders, some access to the single market and will pay a limited membership fee.

Bighting off our noses to spite our faces has never prove to be a successful policy.

Guest

I think you are absolutely right, John, in your assessment of the one-sided approach to the position we find ourselves in. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who think the rest of us are making a mountain out of a molehill and that the seven steps to heaven can be taken overnight. Well, they could if we didn’t bother about the consequences but that’s a non-starter.