Publication - Minutes

Consumers and Markets Taskforce minutes: June 2019

Published: 21 Oct 2019
Date of meeting: 25 Jun 2019
Date of next meeting: 3 Sep 2019
Location: St Andrew's House, Edinburgh

Minutes of the fifth meeting of the Consumers and Markets Taskforce, held on 25 June 2019.

Published:
21 Oct 2019
Consumers and Markets Taskforce minutes: June 2019

Attendees and apologies

In attendance

  • Jamie Hepburn MSP - Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Chair)
  • Arianna Andreangeli 
  • Sonia Brown
  • Brendan Dick 
  • Fiona Richardson 
  • Jo Armstrong 
  • Phil Evans 
  • Shabnum Mustapha 
  • Susan McPhee 
  • Lorraine King - Scottish Government 
  • Laura McGlynn - Scottish Government 
  • Wendy McCutcheon – Scottish Government (Secretariat)

Apologies

  • Peter Freeman
  • Liam Delaney 
  • Sue Kearns   Scottish Government

Items and actions

Chair’s welcome

The Chair welcomed everyone and thanked members for their continued participation in the meetings.  

Agree minutes and action points of previous meeting

The minutes from the meeting of 19 March 2019 were agreed with all action points having been completed. The minutes will now be published on the Scottish Government website.

Consumer Scotland Bill – progress to date

The Chair introduced this session by stating that the Consumer Scotland Bill had been introduced into Parliament on 5 June 2019. The next formal stage will be Stage 1 which will most likely be during December 2019. The scrutiny committee has not yet been announced but it will most probably be the Committee for Economy, Energy and Fair Work. If Stage 1 is during November/December then a call for evidence could be issued in September. 

NB – since this meeting, the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has released its Call for Views on the Consumer Scotland Bill. The deadline for responses is 11 September 2019. 

The Taskforce were encouraged to consider areas of the Bill that they feel could be clearer or which they feel may need to be strengthened to enable Consumer Scotland or the duty to operate effectively. 

A question around the financial implications of Consumer Scotland and the wider consumer landscape was asked. The financial memorandum provides details on how this new body will be funded although it is estimated that the running costs of Consumer Scotland will be approximately £2-2.5 million.

The role of Consumer Scotland and the wider consumer landscape was discussed in detail. Consumer Scotland will horizon-scan across the existing landscape, interact with already established organisations, and focus on vulnerable consumers. Citizens Advice Scotland’s role was also raised, and it was stated that ongoing discussions will continue around the functions of both organisations.

It was highlighted that there was no mention of UK consumer bodies in the Bill, such as the CMA. The reasoning behind this is that Scottish legislation cannot compel UK organisations to work with Consumer Scotland as doing so would likely be outwith devolved competence. Stakeholder engagement is vital to the success of Consumer Scotland and work is ongoing with UK and Scottish consumer organisations to ensure Consumer Scotland can develop strong working relationships when it is established. Another potential benefit of working with others would be the ability to utilise the powers of already established UK and Scottish organisations where practicable and when needed. 

On day one of Consumer Scotland, it needs to be clear what the body’s role is and also what it won’t be doing. The Taskforce suggested that a potential shadow body could be useful in laying the groundwork for this.

The route to getting to day one was then discussed and the need to engage with other bodies before the introduction of the Bill and the duty. Suggestions included ensuring that we are pro-actively working with those who are already engaged to ensure that there is a positive voice and best practice available. There was also the thought that we should develop a mechanism to bring all bodies together into one forum or have a community of people with interests that we could call upon to create relationships / stakeholder engagement with as early in the process as possible. 

Recruitment was then raised as an issue and how the Scottish Government will ensure that the calibre and expertise of staff required are attracted to the body.  Engagement has also been ongoing with the Water Industry Commission for Scotland, including discussions on recruitment, as they have a similar skill requirement as the new consumer body. However, it was noted that recruitment will not commence before Stage 1 of the Bill process.

Other issues around the Bill were also discussed, including vulnerability and the definition of consumer.

As discussed at a previous meeting, there are a variety of ways in which the term vulnerability can be applied - it is not just focused on physical characteristics, for example, it could be following a death of a family member. 
The discussion moved on to the omission of micro SME businesses in the Bill’s definition of a consumer. Many of these businesses are very small, possibly only employing one person and likely to suffer similar issues as individual consumers. However, and unlike individual consumers, a business that has a complaint against another business has options open to it for redress action. The Chair noted that this discussion had been helpful and that officials would consider further.

Implementing a consumer duty on public authorities in Scotland – next steps

At the March Taskforce meeting, there had been a lengthy discussion on what the consumer duty should entail. The Chair was keen to develop this discussion further especially around considering the balance between needing to develop the duty guidance and whether this should be progressed before Consumer Scotland is established, given that the new body will oversee the implementation of the duty. The consumer duty as written in the Bill is a high level commitment. Secondary legislation will be required for further in-depth guidance such as who it will apply to.

A question was raised around penalties for non-engagement with the duty. Given that the duty will be a statutory provision, it will be hard for public authorities not to engage. The Taskforce discussed a few routes that could be considered, such as a judicial review, referral to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, and also sharing the experience of early adopters. The Taskforce however agreed that the aim of the duty is not to punish but to drive culture change and develop and share best practice.

Clarification was then sought on exactly which organisations will be covered by the consumer duty – would it solely be public authorities or would it include any organisations which they work with – such as care homes. It was clarified that the duty is likely to apply to organisations that carry out work for public authorities. Guidance documents, once produced, will provide more detailed information.

It was noted that the Human Rights Act could be of interest as we further develop the consumer duty as it focuses not just on regulators but those who carry out functions relevant to the Act.

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 is scheduled for 3 September from 10 am in St Andrews House, Edinburgh. 

Action Points

Action number Owner Agreed action
1 Secretariat Upload minutes to SG website