- 22 Mar 2019
Attendees and apologies
- Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Chair)
- Arianna Andreangeli
- Brendan Dick
- Fiona Richardson
- Jo Armstrong
- Liam Delaney
- Phil Evans
- Shabnum Mustapha
- Susan McPhee
- Sue Kearns, Scottish Government
- Lorraine King, Scottish Government
- Wendy McCutcheon, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
- Peter Freeman
- Sonia Brown
- Kersti Berge, Scottish Government
Items and actions
The Chair welcomed everyone to this meeting of the Ministerial Taskforce on Consumers and Markets. Apologies were noted.
This was the third meeting of the Taskforce and had been arranged to ensure the Taskforce had an opportunity to discuss the Consumer Scotland consultation responses.
Since the September meeting, the consultation had closed with 58 responses received. Analysis had been completed of all the responses and is available on the Scottish Government website along with the consultation responses. A brief summary of the analysis had been circulated prior to the meeting and the Minister hoped that Taskforce members could work through the useful and constructive comments from the responses and provide potential solutions.
Agree minutes and action points of previous meeting
The minutes from the meeting of 4 September 2018 were agreed and approved with all action points having been completed. The minutes will now be published on the Scottish Government website.
Roundtable discussions on the Consumer Scotland consultation
The Minister reiterated that there had been 58 responses to the consultation and around 50 people had attended various stakeholder events. The focus for Scottish Government policy officials was to now consider the responses to the consultation.
Lorraine King introduced the discussion paper by stating that although there was broad positive support for Consumer Scotland, it was clear from the responses that there needs to be further consideration of the wider supporting policy and delivery landscape, including clarity on the roles of respective bodies. There was support for the new body to have a horizon scanning and wider research function along with a co-ordination of consumer advice delivery. There was also support for the implementation of a consumer duty.
This discussion was focused around three key areas:
- the wider consumer landscape
- Consumer Scotland and its functions
- Consumer Scotland and its role in the overall landscape
The wider consumer landscape
The Scottish Government response to the independent review of legal advice had recently been published and there was a discussion around how the new consumer body would link in with this. Lorraine stated that this was part of the Government’s policy discussions. It was agreed by all that there is a need for clarity on the role of the new body. The consumer landscape is already cluttered and there is a need to make the consumer journey clearer and more leaner otherwise consumers will not use avenues open to assisting them. By decluttering the landscape we also find out where the gaps are and also determine what the root problem is. The work of the Consumer Protection Partnership was highlighted as they have been considering the hidden detriment of consumer issues.
Consumer Scotland and its functions
The role of the new body was discussed and the following were the initial suggestions of what it should be able to do:
- be able to prioritise its own work / take up their own cases
- be an oversight body and also co-ordinate advice provision
- be as pro-active as possible and also reactive when necessary
- help de-clutter the landscape and identify where the gaps are – though not to the extent that it provides advice directly on all consumer issues
- host a brand / portal – as consumers currently do not know where to go for information and advice and often rely on internet search engines
Resources were also discussed and the need for them to be in place, not only for Consumer Scotland, but for other organisations that could be working alongside it, such as Trading Standards. It was noted that Trading Standards are only able to react to individual complaints due to resource constraints. The staffing of Consumer Scotland would also be important to the role it would take on i.e. how many specialist and generalist roles it would have. Consumer Scotland will also have its own Board.
The discussion moved on to what were the specific Scottish issues and the need for consumer mapping. It was agreed that we need to define what the issues are in Scotland, identify them, and then work out what to do to solve them. Taskforce members explained how their own organisations worked around pre-empting issues before they became large national issues. This led on to further discussion around whether existing resources are being used effectively and one of the tasks of Consumer Scotland could be to bring together data from all the various bodies. This would help Consumer Scotland in its horizon scanning role. The Taskforce noted that only looking at current consumer advice issues means we are only looking at revealed consumer problems – there is a need consider what might be emerging.
The Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Authority was cited as an example that Scotland could consider as to how to develop Consumer Scotland as they have a remit of looking across various markets.
The importance of consumer education and the role that Martin Lewis has played in championing issues was highlighted.
Consumer Scotland and its role in the overall landscape
Further discussion suggested that the role that Consumer Scotland should have would be one of co-ordination; data gathering and having the capacity to challenge decisions made by businesses and public organisations. It should not duplicate any work already undertaken by other organisations.
The role of an ombudsman was then raised. This was originally discussed as part of the consumer body working group in 2015. The role of an ombudsman can vary and can be limited in what it can do. ADR was raised as an example of where Consumer Scotland could have a role to play.
It was agreed that Consumer Scotland wouldn’t be able to solve all problems but it should be able to signpost consumers to the relevant organisations. It should also have enough powers to make changes and influence the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government.
The question of what happens next was asked. The Bill process will continue. This includes putting in place the necessary associated documentation such as policy and financial memorandums. The Parliamentary Committee will issue calls for evidence as part of its scrutiny process, which will probably be extended to Taskforce members.
The issues of stakeholder engagement and relationship with other consumer bodies, business and industry was then raised. Awareness of the new body will be instrumental to its success. However, awareness takes a while to build up and we need to understand who to engage with prior to the launch of Consumer Scotland. There was a discussion around whether there was scope to start any stakeholder engagement now. As the development of the outline business case will start at the beginning of 2019, it was agreed that it would be best to wait until that is in progress. Memorandums of Understanding would probably need to be agreed with each organisation that would engage with Consumer Scotland. There are various models already on the landscape that can be checked for best practice such as the Consumer Protection Partnership and the UK Competition Network.
Scottish Government officials are in contact with other policy areas to ensure that they are aware of the new Consumer Scotland body.
Sue Kearns had drafted a mindmap which summarised the discussion on this agenda item and it was agreed that this would be circulated to the Taskforce.
Any other business
There was no other business.
Date and time of next meeting
The Chair thanked all members for attending and for their contribution to the meeting.
The next meeting of the Taskforce has been arranged for Tuesday 19 March 2019 from 10 am until 12 noon in St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh.
- Upload minutes to SG website (Secretariat)
- Circulate 'mind map' with draft minutes (Secretariat)