Having the correct information and advice empowers all of us as consumers, helping us to find the most competitive deals for goods and services, such as energy and broadband. It also reassures us that help is there if things go wrong, and that something will be done to tackle wider consumer harm and market failings.
Empowered consumers, acting within a system of fair competition, support inclusive, sustainable growth in our economy, enabling businesses to innovate and grow in response to consumer need. This also creates an environment where businesses can have confidence that unlawful or poor business practices will be tackled.
Consumer harm, particularly in those services which are essential to everyday life, can have a devastating effect on individuals, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities.
It is, therefore, vital that we create a system of consumer protection, competition and regulation in Scotland which is fully aligned with the needs of our citizens and businesses and which improves people's lives. We have newly devolved, although limited, consumer and competition powers and will use these to maximum effect. We will strengthen this by working closely with our stakeholders in the consumer protection landscape, both in Scotland and across the UK, to influence strongly on behalf of Scotland's consumers, in those areas which are reserved to Westminster, such as consumer protection law.
That is not to say that the current system is broken. There are a number of organisations doing an invaluable job in educating and advising consumers and business and protecting them from harm. However, the feedback from stakeholders has been that more can be done to improve co-ordination, in particular to create an environment where those with a duty to protect the interests of consumers in Scotland can speak with a single voice on the issues that matter.
Over the coming months, the Scottish Government will examine in detail the best way to deliver our Manifesto commitment on a unified consumer body. During this process, we will continue to seek advice and guidance from stakeholders and there will be a full public consultation in the autumn of next year.
This provides a once in a generation opportunity to lay stronger foundations for the protection of consumers in Scotland and it is right to take time to examine, analyse and consult, to ensure we take the correct approach. We are also in a time of uncertainty, with the full impact of Brexit on consumer protection and competition as yet unclear. However, we cannot accept a position where consumers or businesses in Scotland have inferior rights and protections compared to those in other European countries.
While this work is on-going, it is important to make early use of our new powers, and this statement outlines a number of current and planned actions along with a set of principles which will guide our work.
Government can't achieve positive change for consumers and business in Scotland on its own. By working closely with consumer bodies, business, ombudsmen, regulators, advice providers, local authorities and other stakeholders, we can bring about the improvements to maximise the benefits that strong consumer protection, fair competition and effective regulation can bring to Scotland's people, businesses and economy.
Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work
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