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What the new government must do for consumers

As the new Conservative government starts to take shape today, we believe that it must act swiftly to put consumers and their concerns at the heart of its agenda.

Our latest research shows that more people are starting to feel better about the economy but many are increasingly worried about public services, their pension and savings.

We believe that the new government must take swift action in its first 100 days.

Our top priorities for the government

–      Appoint a consumer minister to the Cabinet​ with the power to deal with issues ​across the whole consumer, competition and regulatory landscape, and ​who can drive through reforms across other government departments

–      introduce fairer energy prices to help you with your household bills

–      encourage savings so more people can become financially secure

–      put people at the heart of public services, for example by making complaints count.

Consumers must be at the heart of their plans

Making consumers more powerful is good for the economy and now is the time to make consumers central to the economic plan.

We found that three in 10 people now describe the economy as good, compared with just 8% two years ago. And just under half of people are happy with how much they earn.

But big changes are still needed.

What are your biggest concerns?

We found that six in 10 are worried about public spending cuts, making it the second highest area of concern, and half about the quality of public services.

More than half are worried about the value of their pension and 45% about how much savings they have.

And household costs are still high on people’s list of worries – more than half are worried about energy, fuel and food prices.

In the last Parliament, consumer issues were a high priority and, after pressure from Which?, the government took action in key areas such as banking, pensions and energy. We want to see this momentum continue.

Are you worried about your energy bills or the value of your pension? What are the issues that matter most to you?

SteveH says:
27 May 2015

There is no way for a chronically ill person to get help finding a GP, and no way to make one’s existing GP help. This means that thousands of people like me are stuck at home in agony, with nowhere to turn. The harder we beg the NHS for help, the more we are pushed away, and yet, at the same time, we are forever having to justify our illness to the DWP, and everyone accuses us of shirking, when nobody will help us get better so we can get back to work.

Why has there never EVER been a single campaign–not even a demand from the media or any charity–to get people back to work by making a concerted effort to find out what is really wrong with them and put it right?

Why do billions have to be wasted in keeping people ill by denying them help? Why do thousands of people have to waste away the rest of their lives just because the NHS does not have any diagnostic facilities other than antediluvian GPs who have no equipment to make diagnoses with, and A&E, who just refer you back to the GP, who doesn’t have a clue, and couldn’t care less?!

Please campaign for a proper inpatient diagnostic service for all the pitiful souls who fall prone to illnesses that cannot be diagnosed in a 5 minute GP or consultant visit. There are thousands of us with chronic illnesses who are just dismissed as mad, because there are NO diagnostic facilities, and NO consultants who can cover more than one little bit of the body. My GP just told me to go away and die, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

We’ve just taken a look at what was in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech for consumers – including improving the system for people making complaints about public services.

You can find it here. https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/queens-speech-2015-childcare/

The Queens Speech also promises 24/7 GP access but fails to say how they can afford this.

I sympathise with StevH as he is probably a victim of this governments public service cutbacks. I have quite a common and inherited thyroid problem that requires regular testing and medication adjustment if necessary which used to take place every 6 months but has now been changed to every 12 months and no-one at the practice has given me a rational explanation as to why but I suspect cutbacks are to blame.

It seems ludicrous that proper healthcare, whether from your GP or in a hospital, is on a 9-5 basis and not good at weekends. It will cost money – but perhaps we could reflect on the generous contracts given to GPs allowing them to opt out of after-hours care and surgeons who don’t like working at weekends. We could also look at £3.3billion, according to the DT, spent last year on agency staff. That seems so big to be questionable, but reports of paying doctors £3200 to do a shift, and nurses up to £2200 for 12 hours do make you question the competence of those running the NHS.

Rather than bickering over how it can’t be done I’d much rather the BMA and others sat down with government with a “how we can” attitude. Time for a Conservative/BMA coalition perhaps?

Oh, as an afterthought, would you rather have a decent NHS or get to Birmingham 1/2 hour quicker on HS2?

I was referred to a consultant to look at my finger through the NHS who flew over from Germany for the day once a fortnight. How much NHS money is wasted on ludicrous staff contracts?

It may well come to that Malcolm. I have relatives who live in the West Midlands who all speak more highly of the health treatment they receive there so maybe half an hours trip on HS2 would probably afford me much faster and more efficient treatment than I receive in my area!

But HS2 I accept remains a very sore (forgive the pun) point with many people especially those who live near its proposed route and are seriously inconvenienced by it. But in a global economy change is necessary in order meet the needs of a growing population and a greener and healthier climate and also assist with the governments plans to create a northern powerhouse providing more jobs there and relieving some of the congested London and the South Eastern regions.

Beryl, but it is a question of priorities, isn’t it? Like Trident, aircraft carriers and American fighters that don’t really work well – should we spend money on those, or the NHS for example. Are we being pressured by our allies, or are we pressured by our services chiefs to have big-boys toys and end up being overinsured? If we had unlimited funds I would maybe feel differently but in my view we need to build up this country with better health care, better education, more investment in productive industry through research and development and we can then think about affording the luxuries. No different to your personal budget really is it?

First and foremost, we need to build a successful economy to rid the country of its debts in order to pay for better healthcare I would be very concerned with recent reports of Russian Fighter Jets provocatively encircling our air space and with tensions building up in the Ukraine if our defence systems were mothballed. They are very necessary even if only as a deterrent Malcolm.

Beryl, we are no longer a world power and maybe should accept that. I don’t think Trident and aircraft carriers with the wrong sort of aircraft are the answer. None of this worked in Iraq or against Isis as the Americans demonstrate We need a European defence force to which all contribute. Britain should not try to do more than its share. I agree about building the economy – let’s hope the present government build on the last 5 years to increase prosperity, jobs in manufacturing and industry, improve productivity and hence get a bigger tax take.

The most important consumer items are water food and clothing. The UK has for over 100 years been unable to feed itself due to over population. Our industrial production has been used to pay for the importation of extra food during that time. We were nearly starved into submission in World War II when merchant shipping was sunk on a large scale. Our island nation needs a functioning Conventional Royal Navy to protect our lines of supply be it for food or raw materials such as oil or platinum etc. Irrelevant nuclear weapons play no part in this defence. We are still an European Great Power. The next twenty years will see wars over the issue of water and food such as those in the Middle East. Countries such as China and Vietnam amongst others have already colonised large tracts of Africa to grow food destined for their own peoples. Increasing world Droughts and floods have decimated food production leading to rapidly increasing food prices in our shops – This will become much worse. Historically our defence spending as a proportion of GDP is now at an extremely low level. There is no excuse for this whatsoever, not even austerity. The NHS cannot service the needs of starving people – food is needed before medicine. It is a question of balance. Rationing by price is already here. Rationing of food (as in WW II) will probably return as well. The European mainland (apart from the Netherlands) does not suffer from over population, and can feed its own population from the land mass. They might give us some food in the UK, but only after exerting powerful political leverage. Does that sound familiar? Future availability of imported food for the general population should be high on the political agenda, but it has been marginalised. Historically, Russia and France suffered destabilising revolutions over food shortages. We all need to wake up sharply!

Pleogue says:
29 May 2015

Sadly, I think that making it a bit quicker to get to London will only mean that people are tempted to commute to the capital from further away (not a very green solution!) thus further increasing the pressure on the south east. If the government is serious about creating a northern powerhouse it would improve cross-pennine travel links and also move at least some government departments from London to Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool. This would be a great statement of intent and would inevitably bring private sector jobs with it. Will the government do it? Hmmmm.

HS2 is simply a swindle – or to put it more politely a mechanism for priming the economy in a particular way and incidentally making London even more accessible to suck more money into the South-East.

The Government would be far better to take on more infrastructure projects that actually will pay their way such as the Severn barrages and also the alternative Northern sites, This schemes have a 120 designed life for producing electricity – how green and cash positive is it possible to be.

If one wanted to generate a northern powerhouse the best solution would be to make travel to the North much more difficult from London and improve links between the Northern cities.

What you propose can be done by clever timetabling of the trains on HS2, and the present route, so that no one can arrive in London before 10:30 am. Judicious management of the motorways could complement such action.

I think the overall budget for HS2 is somewhere north of £37b and it’s due to arrive in Leeds by 2033 [that’s the date, not hrs/mins!]. London and the south east, however, is having a new multi-billion pound north-south Thameslink railway through the capital putting Peterborough on the Brighton line, and a new east-west Crossrail route going under London for around £26b making it easier for Reading people to get to Shenfield – if that’s their idea of a good time. After that there is a proposal for a second Crossrail underground regional railway from Wimbledon in south London to Southgate in north London at a back-of-the-envelope cost of >£27b. Since, if all this occurs, L&SE would have twice as much rail investment as the Northern Powerhouse, a further scheme is being touted by the Chancellor and the Big Cities of the North to build a trans-Pennine HS3 to go from Liverpool to Leeds [date not stated]. Meanwhile the government spends roughly >£3b every year on trunk roads and motorways. Since the Department for Transport is not one of the ring-fenced government depts that will have its spending allocations protected it is likely to face some pretty massive cuts over the next Parliament’s term and I can’t imagine all these pipe-dreams will survive; expect the programme to slide slowly towards the right-hand side of the page.

In February 2014 it was reported that consultancy costs on HS2 had gone 86% over budget to £188 million. How much more will be spent before it is even built and starts taking revenue? And if the business case has been suppressed by the government I wonder how much subsidy the taxpayer will have to provide to allow the well-off to get to and from Birmingham a little quicker – instead of just starting a journey half an hour earlier.

George Osborne has outlined plans to devolve more power to northern cities. See @bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32726171- George Osborne outlines city devolution plan for England – BBC News

A northern powerhouse will inevitably need more efficient infrastructure which has to be paid for. The alternative is economic stagnation. We need to get this country’s manufacturing wheels turning again if we are to enjoy the benefits of better healthcare and welfare benefits.

You could certainly have a lot of hospital consultants for that sort of money. We must have one of the most lucrative consultancy professions in the world pro rata to population! I expect a lot of it has been going to the usual suspects in the law firms who have been doing the legal and parliamentary work on the bill [pleading, no doubt, that the level of objections has forced up the cost . . .], and to the land agents surveyors and conveyancers as parcels of land and access rights are being acquired ahead of construction. I don’t suppose much engineering design has actually started yet, and have they worked out where HS2 is going to terminate in London yet?

Unbelievably I can go from my home station in Norfolk, without changing, to Liverpool via Peterborough, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Manchester on lines laid down in the mid-19th century across some challenging terrain. The current costs, timescales and resources deployed put into perspective the work of the great Victorian railway pioneers. Their lines were not built with high speeds in mind yet many of their structures are today carrying very heavy or very fast trains. Extremely scenic too, unlike HS2 which will be in tunnels or out of sight most of the way I believe.

It’s interesting that there was cross-party support for HS2 in the last Parliament and I presume the same prevails now but with added SNP who want the new lines to start north of the border and progress southwards.

I certainly agree with your comments above Beryl. It is essential that we enrich the economy so we can pay for better health care and other essential services, and improved connectivity between regional cities is vital for that. I suspect the economic point of no return has now been reached on HS2 and only phasing is open to variation. Effort should now be focussed on how we optimise the yield from the investment in terms of jobs, skills, technology, communications, energy conservation, urban renewal, development potential, and metropolitan viability independent of London.

.Oooops……… should read half an hours extra trip.

I thought the proposal was for seven-days-a-week GP access, not all round the clock – that would be both extremely wasteful and unjustified. It’s A&E that needs to have a proper complement of doctors, surgeons and anaesthetists available round the clock. This will require considerable extra staff and consultant numbers which will cost a lot of money [£2-3 m a year for each A&E dept?] which will have to come from tax revenues. But the biggest problem is the training and recruitment of sufficient qualified people to fulfill this pledge which might also mean a rapid expansion of the medical schools as well as the employment of more doctors from abroad. This is exacerbated by the retirement profile of the medical professions over the next decade which in itself will lead to more vacancies than the current training output can fill.

Cancelling HS2 would probably not be any help with this problem because that is being funded from borrowing that presumably will have to be repaid from fares and the economic growth accruing from the new connectivity and enhanced freight capacity on the original lines. There would be current expenditure savings from further military retrenchment although since we seem to be likely to under-achieve the NATO target of 2% of GDP this issue is more a question of what we spend the money on rather than whether we make further savings.

Personally I should like to see much more investment in preventive health care to wean us off drugs and hospitalisation, more community healthy-living centres, much better domiciliary support, a higher standard of mental health care, and firmer action to bear on obesity and addictions such as liquor, tobacco and narcotics.

John, I remember the days when your surgery had a doctor on call at night in case of emergency. It worked then. You don’t need the surgery to be open.
HS2 is on borrowed money? Somehow is that not “real” money that costs us in the end. The case for HS2 was concealed because it showed grave deficiencies. Make of that what you will.
However proper health care might cost money, but it will also save money – a healthier population not having delayed treatment with consequent time off work is going to improve productivity isn’t it?

Mental Health Hospitals are mostly now focussed on acute care. Patients are admitted, assessed, stabilised with medication and either sent back home or into privately run care hospitals or homes which charge, at the taxpayers expense, an enormous amount but unfortunately only a percentage of that goes on actual patient care. The remainder goes on profit and to their shareholders. As long as this practice continues the NHS will continue to struggle to pay off its debt and the private sector will continue to profit at the taxpayers expense.

I am very much in favour of preventative health care and regular medication reviews to minimise drug use, the latter offering a considerable cost saving as well as avoiding the side effects of unnecessary drugs. Knowing the suffering that both undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes can cause and the costs of management of those with serious problems, I am surprised that routine screening has not been a standard feature of routine blood tests until the HbA1c test was introduced.

Not all testing is worthwhile, in my view. I am expected to have a regular asthma check despite the fact that my asthma has been extremely well controlled for nearly 30 years and little has changed in that time.

Rather than devoting money to HS2 I would prefer a focus on getting people living within walking/cycling distance from where they work. We managed in the days before cars and public transport and could do so again if the will was there.

I haven’t paid much attention to HS2; I am more interested in having a reliable train service to London at a reasonable price on the day and without ridiculous restrictions on which train home I can catch. My intervention in the choice between HS2 and more doctors was merely to point out that HS2 is supposed to be a wealth-creating capital investment whereas more doctors means a bigger payroll. If as a result of better transport links [and other infrastructure investments] the country becomes more prosperous we might be able to afford the kind of health service we really need. I certainly agree, as Malcolm says, that proper health care will save money which is why I advocate preventive health care. A good emergency treatment service is also essential and it should be possible to have a doctor attend at any hour of the night and at any time at weekends; this function is generally provided nowadays by para-medics with the ambulance service or by contracted call-out doctors. One of the problems is that both services are stretched at times and slack at others; another problem is that both services are open to misuse.

Where I live people will drive thirty miles [or take a taxi] to A&E with a patient because they are worried that an ambulance or a doctor will take too long to attend. Statistically ambulance response times are reasonable but the public perception is that the service is not reliable and the average response time disguises a wide variation. A better, and better-equipped, ambulance service is part of a preventive health service. I cannot believe there isn’t a causal link between the growing number of emergency hospital admissions and the pressures on the family practitioner services that allow too little time for patient consultations, advice, and monitored remedial treatment and deter people from asking for a home visit.

I would like a law forcing all companies selling anything online to give their address, phone number and email address on their website.

This should preferably be on the front page or contact details available from the front page and not hidden away somewhere.

Customers have to give their name, address and financial details to the company, so they have every right to know exactly who they are dealing with and how to contact them.

I bought something from a company a few months ago with no problems and wanted to place another order but had a question that I wanted to discuss with them but couldn’t find a phone number on their website. I found their phone number but no-one answered after trying many times.

The only contact is through an online message system which they also did not answer.

I think I will order elsewhere !!!

The alternative is simply not to use companies that do not show an address and landline phone. I never deal with people with only a mobile number.

I nearly always check out a company before buying from them online and the company I am talking about has at least 4 High Street shops. I found the one I was dealing with on Goggle maps and another which only opened a couple of months ago is pictured in a local paper so they are a legitimate company.

They just seem to have abysmal customer service when it is needed. Although when I looked at their facebook page a very unhappy customer has posted that they hadn’t received their goods and that their phone number and email was fake. So perhaps the company has a major staff problem that the owner knows little about.

Putting proper contact details on websites can only be good for everyone.

So many retailers believe that trading on-line has complete customer-avoiding potential so that they have depleted their customer-facing presence almost to extinction. It looks like HMRC has joined this club as well! I would rather pay more to deal with a trader who has some permanent visible presence.

For many home service firms their van and their mobile phone are their entire physical existence – and if it’s not in their van they haven’t got it and they want you to pay for it first.

And if it is a physical address it is not Luxembourg or similar. As you are aware the Guardian calculated Amazons tax “management” as costing the UK £33m a year – which would pay for a lot of nurses. However it is not just tax that creates a danger to UK society it is the loss of jobs and the collapse or weakening of the High St.

There is an interesting infographic showing how few staff per $1m of sales that Amazon uses compared to big box stores or small stores. ilsr.org/amazon-infographic/

Essentially it is one employed at Amazon. five at a superstore, and eight at independent stores to generate the $1m sales. And Amazon sales are around $49 billion dollars. If you look at this as permanent job losses you would think the Government might stop giving tax breaks and planning assistance to a hugely profitable company and realise that declining HIigh Streets and loss of jobs – other than zero hour contracts – is actually a major problem.

Not employing people in the High St. means they in turn do not spend money there either just ratcheting the effect. The profits on the transactions carried out at a distant warehouse will in a large part disappear to the USA further weakening the national economy let alone the local economy.

Perhaps the Government when talking of the balance of trade payments problems will actually ‘fess up to its assistance to firms who are repatriating vast amounts of money out of the country.

Consumers think short term and at a basic level of value, Governments are meant to look long-term and at the state of the nation. Can they start doing that.

William Caddell says:
15 February 2020


My name is William and I’m a freelance blog writer from London. 
I’ve taken a look at some of the guest posts on your site, and I must say that I really like how they’re done.

I’d appreciate it if I could have a chance to contribute to your website, in the same way. I am ready to pay.

Best Regards, William