Could a government-led consumer strategy smarten up our essential services?

Houses of Parliament

Today marks Theresa May’s first 100 days as Prime Minister. And while we’ve heard some positive things from her new government about prioritising consumer interests, we think what’s needed is a comprehensive consumer strategy to smarten up essential services.

From our research and from what you’ve been telling us, it’s clear that several essential markets in the UK aren’t working effectively enough for you.

If we’re to see an end to the mis-selling scandals and poor customer service that have blighted markets, such as energy, banking, telecoms and rail, over the past 10 years, then corporate culture needs an overhaul.

Consumer strategy

A cross-cutting government consumer strategy would promote competition, while protecting us when we’re at risk. Action could be focused on essential regulated markets, such as energy, banking, broadband and transport.

These are markets where we know (because you tell us so) you frequently face significant costs and where poor customer service is rife.

And, as the government starts negotiations to leave the European Union, the consumer strategy would put you right at the heart of them. It would safeguard the most important consumer rights in EU law and remove regulations that aren’t in your interest.

So what practical steps should the government take in these sectors this autumn? Well, here are our suggestions:

We’ve long been campaigning for a fairer energy market. This autumn and winter, Energy suppliers should take responsibility for engaging customers stuck on expensive gas and electricity tariffs and demonstrate that they’re going the extra mile to ensure they get a better deal.

Earlier this year, Which? revealed that unarranged overdraft fees can be much higher than the cost of a payday loan – punitive charges that are really taking their toll on far too many people. While payday loans have now had their charges capped, the cost for unarranged overdraft fees hasn’t been challenged.

To add insult to injury, in 2014, banks made ÂŁ1.2bn from these charges, yet the competition authorities failed to address this issue as part of its banking inquiry. A consumer strategy should require the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] to review these sneaky fees as soon as possible.

Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is essential for enabling people to participate in the wider economy.

Far too many of you feel frustrated by lacking internet connection, people like John Vincent, who told us:

I live about three miles from a major city, yet we were without our internet connection for a week, and our phone line for two weeks (I run a small business from home, so this makes it really difficult).

The government needs to press ahead with its plans to ensure that people are automatically compensated for broadband service failures, putting the sector in line with the water and energy sectors.

Britain cannot duck the importance of creating and maintaining a modern communications network. The government must ensure its Universal Service Obligation for broadband is delivered cost effectively and that people are able to easily apply for a connection. A consumer strategy would deliver on this agenda and ensure that the level of service people receive from Openreach improves.

Train travel
Far too many rail passengers are being let down every single day, either enduring miserable train journeys or finding it impossible to get the right fare. Rail passengers deserve better. Action is required this autumn to help passengers to find the best priced ticket for their journey.

We need a new independent ombudsman to resolve passenger complaints and it should give new powers to the Office of Rail and Road [ORR] so that it can take action against train companies that continually let their passengers down.

Over to you

So, do you think a new consumer strategy is needed to ensure the government implements change in these failing markets? What else would you like to see put on its agenda?


When I clicked on “energy” my concerns were about her lack of in progress in investing in renewable energy and of her having given the go-ahead for Fracking in Lancashire on the same day as she ratified the Paris Climate Change agreement. To take up her words from the Tory Party Conference. This action was NOT democratic nor is she “listening to the people”.

I totally agree .

Renewable energy is the least of our worries, there are other far more immediate issues to address such as our infrastructure and banking.

Kate Edmonds says:
21 October 2016

I completely agree. It’s not about the price of energy, it’s about the cost to our environment of a bad energy policy.

John E Marson says:
21 October 2016

What we need in energy is consumer led energy policy delivered by government. It’s now possible for every property to head towards energy independence and beyond in every new property, making this the priority, to make the UK independent of Big Energy in the next decade. Pushing building regulations to challenge the average builder to excel and be rewarded for use of best practice modern materials as far beyond regs as possible. A common state of highest common denominator not lowest possible cost will unshackle householders from the iniquity of having to use energy they may not be comfortable to in financial or climate terms.

John – The domestic energy market is important but should not dominate energy policy. The biggest demand for energy comes from industrial, commercial and public service infrastructure. Whereas households are reducing their energy requirements, demand is growing in the non-domestic sectors where cost is the predominant factor alongside reliability of supply. Electrified railways, air-conditioning, bigger airports, more hospitals, schools and prisons, and electric cars are all pushing up demand. Although modern technology might enable the power to be used more efficiently demand continues to outpace the gains from energy saving measures which are reaching optimum levels.

I wrote to me MP about the trains being too high for our platforms and the reason for this is that they are built for EU platforms, but why when these trains do not even travel to the EU. I now have to have help getting on and off the trains. I would sooner see improvements in the stations we already have than to spend a huge amount on the HS2 and of course something done about trains not designed for our platforms. Another thing is building more roads and pavements when our existing roads and pavements are full of potholes and a danger to even walk on. A motto to this if you cannot maintain what you have don’t build more.

I agree.

I am afraid the answer you received was convenient [and politically expedient] but entirely incorrect, Kathleen. Most continental railways have much lower platforms than in the UK and it is often necessary to climb up three or four vertical steps to enter the carriage.

The floors of railway carriages in the UK have been standardised for generations and should generally be 760 mm above the rail height. This pre-dated the EU and had absolutely nothing to do with EU requirements, although the UK standard height has subsequently become one of the approved dimensions in the current EU technical standards. Unfortunately, this rarely lines up with the platform surface for a number of reasons: a few rural stations still have their original Victorian platforms that were built to a lower height for the original trains, and at many stations the ballast under the track has been progressively raised in height during maintenance work to a level than is no longer suitable for the platform height. Also there is usually at least one step to tread on before reaching the carriage floor height, and stations built on a curve often have substantial gaps between the platform and the train as well as a large height difference. Every station is equipped with at least one access ramp on each platform that can be deployed to assist disabled passengers and there is also a scheme for disabled people to notify their departure and arrival stations in advance so that appropriate assistance can be available at the right time. Where stations are unstaffed the guard/conductor or the driver should check to see whether there are any people needing assistance, but many station platforms are still inaccessible because they can only be approached via steps [there is a DfT funding scheme trying to eliminate these difficulties but it is a long-term programme].

It is interesting that you mention HS2 because this could cause problems where the high speed trains run onto other ‘classic’ lines in order to complete their journeys. Without wishing to get too technical, the floor heights of the high speed trains will have to be 1200 mm because larger diameter wheels are needed on the trains in order to prevent overheating on account of the very high speeds. The platforms on the new HS2 lines will be built to a height that is as near as possible level with the carriage floor, and stations will be built on straight sections of track to avoid the gap problem, but as soon as these higher-floored trains go onto the existing lines with their lower platforms there will be a large height difference that is, so far as I know, still unresolved. It might be that steps or ramps beneath the carriage doorways will automatically deploy at such places but that is not without practical problems of its own [people or luggage could be in the way].

By 2020 all UK trains will have to have automatic [press-button] sliding entry doors, audible warnings for door closures, at least one wheelchair-accessible toilet, and passenger information displays and announcements. This is an EU requirement and the UK is well ahead in fulfilling these specifications.

I always thought platforms on the continent were LOWER than ours? They always used to be, virtually at ground level! Whose trains are you referring to Kathleen? I find the Desiros used by London Midland difficult in this respect! |(Euston to Birmingham & Crewe & Birmingham to Liverpool trains) have to hoist myself on, so much for outlawing “disability discrimination”!

“Every station is equipped with at least one access ramp” says John. Sorry no! Aylesbury Vale Parkway hasn’t got one, or didn’t back in the summer. I and another passenger helped a wheelchair passenger to get on whilst the driver went to look for one, without success! No guard on their trains either!

I totally agree with Kathleen. HS2 is just an ego trip. We would be far better off with a strategy addressing the whole of our country rather than piece-meal knee jerk actions.

Thanks, David, for your correction. I am disappointed that Aylesbury Vale Parkway station is lacking the necessary facilities for disabled access. I neglected to check every platform on the Chiltern lines in view of the company’s very high passenger satisfaction scores. If the platforms don’t have the necessary ramps they could at least make sure there is one on board each train – but if there is no conductor/guard either that doesn’t help much. I hope you have pointed this deficiency out to Chiltern Railways.

Margery Dobson says:
21 October 2016

I have travelled a fair bit by train in Holland, Belgium, France and Germany and the trains are too high for the platforms there too. Except at Metz, where the station was built before WWI by Germans and the platforms were designed for loading cavalry horses!

How nice, for some. Now we know that our new carriages for Scotland will , following EU specifications, be incompatible.

The new carriages for Scotland will be to the same specification as the ones they replace in terms of the floor height relative to the platforms.

This is growing into one of those “EU Orders Straight Bananas” myths.

The facilities listed online on National Rail Enquiries website for Aylesbury Vale Parkway :
Staff help available
Staff help available opening times
Monday – Friday 05:10 – 11:50
Saturday 06:40 – 12:20
Sunday Closed
Ramp for train access
Step free access coverage
Step free access note
Wheelchairs available

At first glance that all seems quite reasonable provision, Malcolm, if they honour their commitment – but outside the opening times the provision is inadequate. Somebody in a wheelchair going out in the morning could get on the train but if coming back in the afternoon would be unable to get off.

Just for the record, the ORR is the Office for Rail and Road, not the Office for Road and Rail as stated in the Intro.

John, Just passing on information. I was not suggesting it was reasonable (or not). 🙂

Annie says:
23 October 2016

Coming into Paddington on Friday, one of the train staff put a ramp down to get the tea trolley off the train, but took it up again before the woman with a walking stick who was struggling to get on the train, and the two others with sticks who needed to get off, could make use of it!

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Thanks for looking this up, Malcolm. The ‘opening hours’ of stations are critical to whether or not disabled people can use the railway. It is very unfair for disabled passengers arriving when the station is ‘closed’ – not everyone will be familiar with the restrictions. Having a ramp but no staff to position it seems to be a bit of cynical box-ticking to me.

Following on from this discussion I have discovered that our nearest station is also ‘open’ only up to 13:00 M-F, although anyone can walk through it at any time of the day and night as it is on a footpath route but not use a wheelchair at any time because the only way to cross the line is via the footbridge with about twenty steps on each side. A long detour around the station on the public highway footpaths is the only way for a wheelchair user to get to the Down platform from the ticket office side and it could take about fifteen minutes. There is a ramp from the car park to the Up platform but the gradient is far too steep to be safe even if the wheelchair user has assistance. So we are going to have “accessible” trains in the next two years but still have inaccessible stations because the “access for all” programmes for railway stations is funded centrally by the Department for Transport and not under the direction of the train companies. I wrote to our MP about the poor physical arrangements about four years ago but received an unhelpful reply. Now that I know about the inadequate staffing arrangements I shall write again and ask why there has been no progress. There have been a lot of complaints through the local papers about the last station before Norwich where disabled people can get a train into Norwich fairly easily but when coming back have to stay on the train until the next station, get off and go to the end of the platform next to the level crossing, cross the road at a dangerous place, and then go up a ramp onto the Down platform to wait for the next Norwich-bound stopping train which could be half an hour or more.

[P.S. I thought I had responded to your comment previously but it has not appeared; maybe I did not post it properly.]

Thanks for the clarification on ORR, John. This has now been corrected.

I also clicked on Energy for the same reasons outlined by Moira Gommon and in addition, because I believe it was wrong of Teresa May to ultimately agree to allowing Chinese and French organisations the go ahead to build new nuclear stations at a guaranteed unreasonably high price to the consumer and with a deal that, it seems, will also cost the taxpayer well over the odds. A better renewable energy strategy would cost a fraction of this and would provide the same levels of energy.

All that’s needed is one amendment to the law. A greed law. I’m fed up of the media telling us there’s no money. There’s plenty of money. It’s just not spread right. And it is getting worse. And will only get worse under any government that doesn’t realize the blindingly obvious. Or perhaps they do. But they love the being at the top. Because we are all plebiscites to these people. Hence why the police used that “Pleb” word in the scandal. They were just saying what the people at the top really think. It’s maybe not in their kind words, but in their evil actions. I know of no better word for it.


In olden days, we have a strangely egalitarian political party, largely funded by our trade unions, whose aims and policies included measures for the creation of a more equal society.

I agree with the comments made above about energy – I clicked on energy because I am really concerned that May has given the go-ahead for the Hinkley power station, which is wrong on so many counts. It’s wrong that we should be subsidising nuclear energy when the subsidies for renewables are pitifully low and being phased out; it is wrong to put our energy strategy so completely in the hands of foreign nationals; and it is wrong to permit a nuclear power station to be built without making 110% sure that it is safe from flood, fire, natural disaster or terrorism / war. As for fracking: this is simply criminal to override the objections of the local population. Fossil fuels now need to be left in the ground if we are not to poison the entire planet and allow global warming to proceed. There’s no alternative – but the government doesn’t seem to care. Britain could have led the world on the development and use of clean technology, even cleaning up coal burners. Another missed opportunity.

Graham says:
21 October 2016

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stop all immigration now before its too late.

I keep being told the 17 odd million who voted for Brexit did so because of immigration. I did not vote to leave, but was hovering only just in favour. Had I voted to leave it would have been because of EU bureaucracy, wastefulness and self interest, not because of immigration. Perhaps I would have been the only one.

People from overseas contribute greatly to our economy and culture; I wonder how many real Britons are left after centuries of foreign arrivals? What I would like is a selective system that ensures under most circumstances we welcome those who will contribute and can support themselves. What I generally do not like is those who enter only to absorb our benefits without contributing.

Robin says:
21 October 2016

Consider this,if we have about 7% of the population jobless and,apparently,wanting jobs then how can there be any work for the so-called immigrants?
Why do we not just direct some of the unemployed off to pick cabbages,train as nurses,whatever?
They are not immigrants in most cases either,half of them come from the EU,where anyone in the UK can go asveasily as driving thete and get a job as,perhaps,a plumber.Should be easy enough,in fact I know of several who did just that.


[This comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Hi Malcolm, may I say that you would not have been the only one who voted to leave due to the EU Bureaucracy, Wastefulness and Self Interest, may I add Corruption whereby the EU Accounts have not been signed off for years. That is why I voted Leave.

Many People from Overseas contribute to our economy, but lets be Honest, If I said to you that I could get you a nice House in Orlando and you would not have to work again but could live off the State, would you go.

Chas says:
21 October 2016

100% spot on.

I guess the demographics of the out vote mean that many Which voters are in the brexit camp.

But what does brexit actually mean and for the younger generation especially.

You thought wider than yourself by voting to Remain in my view. You thought about the younger generation and the UK National Interest.

Mark says:
21 October 2016

I also voted to leave the EU. How can you support an organisation that cannot account for it’s own spending?Wasteful and undemocratic are not two things I want associated with a body that governs my way of life.

Government led ? Please don’t make me laugh. Too much lobbying getting in the way for one. Plus just look at Heathrow airport expansion, that’s goverment led and going no where fast. And minister all seem to have an eye on the next job, so never make the hard decisions for fear of not getting it.

The condition of the roads in the UK are at a level now, that to get even 10percent repaired, will take more than 5 years, and an investment in the billions.

“A cross-cutting government consumer strategy …..” What does this mean???Much of the above is almost government-speak. Aspirations but not actions. We need positive proposals.

For energy, stop the cheap fixed price deals that are subsidided by variable tariffs. Concentrate on soundly-base tariffs to suit different types of user – whether low or high, time of day. And bear in mind the cheap prices offered by the new small companies arise from buying at current low prices but won’t be sustained long term.

Unarranged overdrafts are only more expensive than payday loans in very limited specific cases; it is a specious argument. We should be encouraging people who merit an overdraft facility to arrange one with their bank. Do it properly.

Broadband – fine. Where does the money come from to connect all the remote places? Taxes are limited.

What we need is a high profile Consumer Minister but, more important, a properly funded Trading Standards organisation that has the resources to deal effectively with consumer complaints.

Which? I’d like you to develop specific proposals that are fair, workable and not simply “popular”.

Dennis Stott says:
21 October 2016

Always looking at the long term view i.e. Five years maximum. The next election.

Peter Skelton says:
21 October 2016

As with other commentators, I am most concerned about the Government’s lack of real commitment (indeed, almost antipathy) to genuinely sustainable renewable energy supply. Whatever they say, their actions are clearly more favourable to the unsustainable options of climate-damaging fossil fuel-based, and unaffordable (and probably undeliverable) nuclear sources – no doubt under the influence of big-business lobby groups and self-serving party donors.

Anne says:
21 October 2016

We need to improve rail links and bring them into the 21st century better links mean more buisiness more buisiness means more jobs more jobs mean a better standard of living .

I think we should promote less commuting by taking jobs away from overcrowded places and putting them nearer places people can afford to live. Commuter trains are a huge drain in rail resources that could be better invested.

Jane Johnson says:
21 October 2016

I clicked the Rail button because of the unacceptable situation in the South West where adverse weather at Dawlish frequently causes delay and even termination of services

Blame Brunel for Dawlish. But what a beautiful stretch of line.

I choose “Rail” as I am totally against spending ÂŁ56b on a new railway line connecting London through to the North East. We have other priorities on which this money should be spent such as the NHS, Schools, Apprenticeships, House Building and repair of our roads.

Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are the current intended destinations for the HS2 system. It is forecast to create nearly 27, 000 jobs. Phase 1 will offer between 5,000 and 9,000 apprenticeships.

I could see other ways of creating 2700 jobs, such as fixing potholes. The “creation” of jobs should not be used as an excuse for proceeding with expensive vanity projects. Jobs and investment should be necessary and profitable. Who will use all the trains running on HS2 (particularly in a business world that will rely more and more on remote communication)? No freight, just well-heeled passengers. Far better to improbve our existing railways, have better freight distribution to get traffic off the roads. We don’t need to save 40 minutes on a journey to Birmingham.

There’s certainly a lot to be said for repairing the roads and keeping them in good condition, and it certainly wouldn’t require the creation of 27,000 jobs or more than about a billion pounds extra a year. What the NHS requires is a lot more staff and perhaps one or two more hospitals in each county. I seem to recall the Leave campaign had the answer for that so we shall soon see. The main problem with the high speed rail project is that by the time it arrives it might not be needed, or be unaffordable, and will just stop at Birmingham. That would still relieve capacity on the existing main line and free up space for more freight but won’t satisfy the people in the North West who are eager for the benefits of better services to come their way. I’m never really sure what a “vanity project” is. Some people think art galleries, theatres, opera companies, orchestras and dance studios that soak up large chunks of public money come under that description. Solar power has been one of the biggest vanity projects of recent times with very little to show for it; common sense tells us that the sun doesn’t shine when we need the lights and heating on. I think that civic pomp and municipal waste would be on my list of things to tackle. There is nothing much wrong with our energy policy overall – it’s the price that grates and the government is the big offender here by loading extra charges onto our bills whether we can afford them or not. There is a pressing need to deal with the low energy-efficiency of a high proportion of UK homes without making the measures unaffordable for the householder. Housing is the big failure that needs a coherent strategy. Every time any government tries to sort out the mess it puts its foot in it again; it lets the private sector get away with minimum standards, silly prices and restricted supply, while it inhibits councils and social housing bodies from making a bigger contribution with complex restrictions and obligations.

GeorgeH says:
21 October 2016


Over 5,000,000 trees felled to make room,
Hundreds of miles of bulldozed tracks,
Our finest landscapes trashed by multinationals,
Giant pylons scarring our beautiful countryside,
Thousands of tons of concrete dumped on our fragile upland ecosystems,
Millions of birds and bats needlessly slaughtered,
Wind farms visible from 60% of Scotland,
Tourists deterred by industrialised landscapes,
The highest energy bills in Europe,
Countless millions extorted from the poorest bill payers,
Multinationals and landowners trousering millions,

During our coldest nights so far, in February 2016, when we needed power most, despite all this, wind’s contribution to the National Grid, to the nearest round figure was –

ZERO!!! (0.15% precisely)

That could be, George, because overnight, when demand is low, the constant baseload supply from the nuclear power stations is sufficient for our energy needs. Switching out the wind turbines prolongs their life and reduces maintenance expenditure.

A windfarm does not leave the scars on the countryside in the way you describe – it does not take tons of concrete and millions of birds and bats are not needlessly slaughtered – you are believing the mythology not the facts. A windfarm can be dismantled at the end of it’s lifetime and not leave a trace – can you say that about a nucleur plant, which, by the way, look decidedly more ugly in our landscape than a few wind turbines.

I agree with you on wind turbines, P Lindsay, although I am pleased they are congregating off-shore now in order to get efficient scale and performance. I quite happen to like the appearance of nuclear power stations. Sited in undeveloped coastal locations they have a scale and geometry that is quite awesome. Some of the electricity distribution clutter around them can look a bit of a mess though but that is the case with any power generating installation.

Some time ago I watched a tv program on the effects wind turbines had on people living close to them and was glad there wasn’t one near me.

They apparently give out a constant noise and were making peoples lives a misery, so I think the best place for them is off-shore.

Use solar and water power rather than nuclear energy.

Energy Companies are keen to get you business, that they offer you, what seems to be an unbeatable deal, then when you have paid their quote for six months, they re-assess their quote and decide that it has to be
increased. as the energy could be going up re the decision to leave the European Community.
All prices for gas / electric should be FIXED, at the beginning of the year, If the price goes up, WE the consumer will be in pocket, if the price drops, then the supplier will gain.
PS Nationalise the suppliers so that all households from in the UK pays the same price

Philip, if you choose a fixed price fixed term deal your energy supplier cannot change the price.

Wrong Malcolm r. I signed a 12 month deal with GB Energy in July. Last week I get a letter announcing a 30% rise.
I have asked them for a detailed breakdown of where their costs have increased, to justify such an enormous rise.
9 days now and no reply

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John – This seems to be a serious error that surely should not stand. Just to be clear, is it the unit price or tariff terms that have gone up, or is it a new estimate of your consumption that gives rise to a higher bill?

Philip, I have been with GB Energy. I had a fixed price deal for 12 months. An email informed me their prices were increasing. This did not apply to fixed price contracts.

My first priority is to get us out of the EU on decent terms. That is what I voted for and improved broadband is a nice to have by comparison.

i agree John and these children they are letting in no way are they children do they think we are stupid keep to your word we voted to come out of the eu please do as we asked you.

John. You voted to leave full stop. There never has been and still hasn’t appeared, any sort of strategy of terms, decent or otherwise.

No one will give the UK “decent” terms to leave. They are all intent on making this a painful example for others to shy away from another exit. This might also be pay-back time for years of UK moaning in EU matters.

Just received an email from Which?.
“Today marks Theresa May’s first 100 days as Prime Minister.
We’re calling on the government to deliver a consumer strategy that will focus on issues that affect you. Please tell us – what is your main priority right now? (click the image)”

This gives me a choice of banking, energy, broadband and rail. My priority might not be any of these that Which? seems to be forcing on me. Why not “none of these” or “your own choice”.

I get tired of campaigns that push us to support other people’s suggestions without leaving room for our own. It simply gives distorted results.

You are right, there should be an opt out choice.
Alternatively, I would have ticked all 4. If there had been that choice, as they are all ripping us off.

My choice would have mobile phone coverage, but it was not offered.

I agree with Malcolm on distorted results when not given sufficient choice or the option to give other suggestions.

Interesting that I have been given a thumbs down for mobile coverage.

We recently had a family crisis that required a fair amount of phone time. The landline packed up and we couldn’t get a mobile phone signal in the house. Relatives had to send a text that said phone them and we would have to wander around the garden or the street trying to find a signal.

Now supposing that it had been a real emergency.

I live near the edge of a conurbation with a population of over 50,000 that is definitely not ‘out in the sticks’.

There are folks living in areas with far worse mobile coverage than my area. It is disgraceful in this day and age that mobile coverage is not available to everyone in the UK whenever it is required. With the disappearance of public telephones, a mobile phone signal could mean the difference between life and death.

I agree. And I wonder if they’ll read any of these comments – not sure I like the phrasing they’ve used and I am worried my ‘vote’ for energy looks like I’ve simply agreed with their statement on energy rather than my comment…..

Martin Illingworth says:
21 October 2016

I didn’t really know the facts about climate change till last week when I watched an American film on the subject. It was more than worrying. Yet this current Government is hell bent on maintaining our dependence on fossil fuels, and is clearly lying about it. I don’t know anyone that supports fracking. Why are we introducing another fossil fuel ? And why is this Government forcing it upon communities that don’t want it ? Sheer common sense says we must make a rapid transition to renewable energy. It is purely a matter of will. We didn’t move out of the stone age because we ran out of stones did we ?