Publication - Minutes

Consumers and Markets Taskforce minutes: March 2019

Published: 27 Jun 2019
Date of meeting: 19 Mar 2019
Location: St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh

Minutes of the fourth meeting of the Consumers and Markets Taskforce, held on 19 March 2019.

Published:
27 Jun 2019
Consumers and Markets Taskforce minutes: March 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
  • Liam Delaney
  • Phil Evans
  • Shabnum Mustapha
  • Susan McPhee
  • Sue Kearns, Scottish Government
  • Lorraine King, Scottish Government
  • Wendy McCutcheon, Scottish Government (Secretariat)

Apologies

  • Peter Freeman
  • Kersti Berge, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Chair’s welcome

The Chair welcomed everyone and expressed his appreciation to members for making available the time to attend these meetings.  

Agree minutes and action points of previous meeting

The minutes from the meeting of 4 December 2018 were agreed with all action points having been completed. The minutes will now be published on the Scottish Government website. 

Roundtable discussion on implementing a Consumer Duty on public authorities in Scotland 

The Chair introduced this session by stating that the December meeting was very productive in discussing the proposed role of Consumer Scotland. At that point, our initial thinking was that the proposed Consumer Duty would not be included on the face of the Bill and instead an enabling provision would be placed within the Bill with secondary legislation providing the detail of the Duty. However, stakeholder feedback since December has been robust in the need to include the Duty in the Consumer Scotland Bill. The Chair had listened to both sides of the argument and come to the conclusion that it was the sensible thing to do by including the Duty on the face of the Bill. This will ensure an important emphasis is put on the Duty.

The Chair stated that the Duty will not come into effect immediately – potentially not until Consumer Scotland is established. It is also proposed that Consumer Scotland will play an active role in developing guidance to assist public authorities with their implementation of the Duty, as well as monitoring compliance with the Duty.

At the Taskforce meeting, the Chair wanted to focus on how the Consumer Duty should work stating that it needed to be more than a tick-box exercise otherwise it would be a waste of everyone’s time.

Stakeholder engagement was cited as critical to the success of this Duty. This engagement should include the supply chain to ensure that they were aware of the Duty and that it could apply to them. The supply chain could include third sector organisations and others that supply to other local authorities – the Taskforce felt that we should keep who the Duty applies to as wide as possible. We should also ensure that there are measures in place to ensure that public authorities are indeed complying with the Duty. 

Issuing guidance on proportionality could be helpful to public authorities as is evaluating their work to focus their effort on what matters the most. There was a more detailed discussion on all these points including how we define a consumer and who would take priority in any given circumstance – consumer or SME.

All agreed that there should be a written assessment of how a decision was made as to the need for applying the Duty or not – otherwise this Duty did run the risk of turning into a tick-box exercise. The Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment was cited as an example as was the Fairer Scotland Duty of how to complete the assessment of a Consumer Duty.

It was suggested that there may be learning from the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty that could help inform the Consumer Duty. Housing associations were cited by one member as being an exemplar in this field and there may be good practice that could be incorporated into the Consumer Duty.

It was highlighted that public bodies are already obliged to carry out consultations but the question was raised as to what happens between consultation and implementation. For instance, Scottish Water has a Water Customer Forum which plays an important role in ensuring the consumer interest is represented in the water sector. It was suggested that having examples of what is being looked for would be helpful. 

The discussion on guidance continued, especially around who would own it with the following discussion points raised:

  • should the Scottish Government consult on what should be in the guidance which would then be adopted by the consumer body
  • should the Scottish Government issue the guidance in consultation with the consumer body
  • what would happen if the new body, which will be independent from the Scottish Government, put in place guidance which the Scottish Government does not like / is not fit for purpose 
  • who would actually be responsible for the guidance

The role of Consumer Scotland was discussed with the Taskforce considering the balance between the need to start developing the guidance for the Duty and consulting with stakeholders, and whether it was right that this work be progressed before the body’s establishment given that Consumer Scotland will oversee its implementation.  The Taskforce considered the possibility of the proposed shadow body for Consumer Scotland could take this work forward, especially as the Duty will not come into force immediately.

Roundtable discussion on identifying the hidden costs of disabilities to Scottish consumers

Lorraine introduced this session which was focused on discussing and agreeing the proposed responses to the recommendations in the 'Hidden Costs of Disabilities to Scottish Consumers' report. This work was part of the original proposed pipeline of projects. Lorraine stated that while Scope, the disability equality charity, had undertaken a substantial piece of research, it has focused only on England and Wales. Therefore, the Scottish Government commissioned EKOS to carry out in-depth analysis with a focus on Scotland. EKOS, in their findings, presented seven recommendations and the Taskforce paper presented these along with suggestions for proposed actions. Lorraine also highlighted that there is not one policy area that leads on disability in the Scottish Government – it is spread across a variety of teams; and although the proposed actions had a consumer focus, the non-consumer focused recommendations in the report would be shared with relevant colleagues.

There was a discussion on disability in general, and more specifically, on the report’s recommendations. All agreed that this is an extremely complex area with a wide range of diversity and there would be no one size fits all fix. It was agreed that the Taskforce should focus on which recommendations could be readily achieved to meet intended outcomes. As such, much discussion was given to appointing a disabilities champion as this could be a catalyst for further work. The discussion then moved on to a redress scheme and the champion overseeing this. A potential issue with this is that there are not that many devolved areas that could be investigated. However this champion needs to do something differently as many advocacy bodies have been in this field for decades and there have been no major changes.

Liam echoed the importance of having disability perspectives involved using plastics policy as an example. 

Las Vegas was cited as a good example of ensuring those with disabilities are catered for as it is well equipped to meet a wide array of mobility needs. 

The Taskforce agreed that awareness-raising is extremely important as is broader engagement with business. There is a need to bring businesses and those with disabilities together. Work is already ongoing in this area with the Chair stating that in April last year, he had attended the 2018 Congress on Disability, Employment and the Workplace, hosted by Scottish Government and partners. Based on the discussions around awareness-raising, recommendations six and seven and associated actions could be the first actions to take forward. These recommendations focus on working with third sector organisations to support disabled consumers have a stronger voice and ways in which the Scottish Government can encourage businesses to take (further) action to minimise the extra costs faced by disabled consumers in Scotland.

Overall the Taskforce agreed that the proposed actions were broadly good ideas however, following these discussions, there was a need for secretariat to develop them further. 

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 Chair stated that the next meeting wasn’t until 3 September 2019 and he felt that was too far away given the work that is ongoing with the Consumer Scotland Bill. It was agreed that we should hold another meeting in June. Secretariat would liaise with the Chair’s office and arrange a meeting date.