Delivering better outcomes for consumers and businesses in Scotland

Provides details of our recently devolved consumer and competition powers.

Delivering better outcomes for consumers and businesses in Scotland - taking action

We will deliver better outcomes for consumers and businesses in Scotland through the following actions.

Action - delivering our commitment on a unified consumer body

Following on from the recommendation of the independent Working Group on Consumer and Competition Policy for Scotland [4] , over the coming months, the Scottish Government will examine in detail the best way to deliver the Manifesto commitment on a unified consumer body (Consumer Scotland).

It is too early to outline in detail the scope and structure of a body. This will be subject to full public consultation in autumn of next year. However, key characteristics are likely to include:

  • provide a strong voice for consumers in Scotland, with the authority to work with other stakeholders to influence policy and the approach of government, business, public services and regulators in Scotland and across the UK in a cohesive way;
  • ensure independence, but with clear accountability to the Scottish Parliament on its ability to deliver better outcomes for Scotland's economy and its communities;
  • ensure that consumer advice, education and information are delivered in a coordinated way;
  • deliver high quality outcomes for individual consumers, support wider economic growth and represent value for money for public funds; and
  • work with stakeholders, using information and research, to identify and tackle issues of consumer harm and competition concern, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

A full public consultation on proposals to deliver the manifesto commitment for a unified consumer body will be launched in the autumn of 2017.

Action - tackling nuisance calls

Nuisance calls are by definition an unwanted interruption, and can cause real harm to those whose circumstances make them vulnerable. Research from Which? [5] has shown that this is a greater problem for Scotland's citizens. That was why we took early action to address the issue through a Nuisance Calls Summit and subsequent Commission, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.

The Commission will focus on how we can empower consumers to protect themselves, how we can support businesses that want to do the right thing and tackle persistent offenders, and how we can improve the regulatory framework.

Following the conclusion of the Commission, we will publish a progress and delivery plan before summer recess in 2017, which will outline how the Scottish Government, in partnership with stakeholders, will address the problem of nuisance calls.

Action - coordinating publicly funded advice services

There is a wide range of publicly-funded advice services in Scotland which are free at point of access. These vital services provide invaluable support in a variety of areas, such as welfare and benefits, money and debt and consumer rights, often to the most vulnerable.

We want to ensure that these advice services are coordinated in a way which delivers the most effective and most flexible response to the needs of Scotland's communities. We are, therefore, working with advice providers and other stakeholders to develop a coherent overarching strategy for how the Scottish Government supports advice services.

The outcome of this work is to ensure advice services funded by the Scottish Government are:

  • fully coordinated, and, where appropriate, aligned with the approach taken by other funders of public advice services, such as Local Authorities, Health Boards and the UK Government;
  • focused on the needs of people, clearly supporting our commitment to building a fairer Scotland through tackling poverty and inequality;
  • underpinned by a continuous improvement approach taken to ensure a consistent, high level of quality and standards for advice provision;
  • providing demonstrable value for money for the use of public funding; and
  • able to support the sector to respond to key strategic developments such as the recent devolution of consumer advice powers and the future devolution of social security powers.

The project will be completed in summer 2017 with the outcomes and actions published.

Action - Consumer Scotland Taskforce

We want to make early progress on identifying and tackling consumer harm and market failings. However, the Scottish Government cannot do this alone.

Therefore, in the spring of 2017 we will bring together consumer and competition experts with business, academics and regulators to identify:

  • the top issues affecting consumers, businesses and markets in Scotland; and
  • the practical steps required to tackle these issues.

The focus of this work will be how to make the most effective use of the newly devolved consumer and competition powers, and how to put strong partnership working across the consumer landscape to best effect.

Action - Understanding how markets work in Scotland

The Strategic Assessment of Markets in Scotland (the Assessment [6] ), published in June 2016, was the Scottish Government's first formal look at competition in markets in Scotland. It set out the areas where we think Scottish markets could be improved or could produce better outcomes for Scottish consumers.

The key issues identified included:

  • why Scottish consumers don't switch supplier more often in regulated markets, such as gas and electricity;
  • consideration of how consumers could be more empowered to make informed choices in complex markets, such as health, social care and the legal sector; and
  • how to ensure that on-going competition and regulatory investigations take sufficient account of Scottish issues.

The Assessment was an important first step in gaining an understanding of potential competition issues in Scotland and we will look to address the areas of concern identified through a two year programme of activity.

Action - Collaborative economy

Another emerging theme from the Assessment was the growing importance of the collaborative economy, which connects individuals or communities via online platforms, thereby enabling the sharing or provision of goods and services, assets and resources without the need for ownership [7] . We are keen to explore where there are opportunities for and barriers to growth in this area. Our work to date has identified that the Scottish Government should consider how to:

  • ensure that regulation is fit for purpose and that an appropriate balance is struck to allow competition to flourish;
  • protect and empower consumers and identify clear routes to redress;
  • support Scotland's business base to digitally transform and compete in the evolving market place; and
  • ensure that the wider economic, social and community impacts, including taxation, social inclusion and employment conditions, are understood.

Scottish Ministers will outline their next steps on how Scotland can position itself to take advantage of the opportunities of the collaborative economy as well as the challenges that it will present in early 2017.

Action - ethical based regulation

We will work to use our new powers in innovative ways, and build on the successes we have already achieved through our Better Regulation approach. This underpins many policy areas in Scotland, including housing, food standards and environmental protection. Our approach to Better Regulation is well-established and well-regarded, often being considered an example of best practice in Europe.

We remain committed to this approach and to the principles that regulation should be proportionate, consistent, accountable, transparent and targeted. We want regulation in Scotland to be business friendly, to create a level playing field and to encourage business investment and growth.

We have already achieved much, but there is still room for improvement. The strengths of Better Regulation - in particular its emphasis on collaboration - should be extended to cover all parts of the regulatory puzzle, as well as made more effective at encouraging innovative or tailored approaches that might better suit both businesses and consumers.

Some businesses and regulators have already gone beyond what is required. For example, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency ( SEPA) is helping Scottish businesses find profitable ways to do more than the law requires in reducing their energy use and waste produced. SEPA's latest strategy [8] published in August 2016, outlines its approach to delivering environmental protection and improvement in ways that will also create health benefits and sustainable economic growth.

The Scottish Government wants to create the policy environment to allow this exemplary practice to become the norm. We will, therefore, enhance our Better Regulation strategy with an ethical based approach, which emphasises securing compliance by changing organisational culture through collaboration and developing ethical values.

The Scottish Government will outline how it will embed ethical based regulation into the regulatory toolkit during the course of 2017.

Action - measuring impact

It is vitally important to measure and report upon the progress that our actions are making in terms of improving the lives of consumers across Scotland. We will do so by using the following critical success factors:

  • Scotland's consumers can access the right advice at the right time in a way that works for them;
  • ensuring that the advice given to consumers has a positive impact on their lives. In particular, that it helps people in our communities deal with the worst effects of poverty;
  • ensuring that consumer advocacy is influencing the decision making processes of policy makers and regulators;
  • Scotland has effective and open markets that provide consumer choice and allow businesses to operate on a level playing field; and
  • Scottish businesses are innovative, efficient and fair, boosting consumer trust and supporting inclusive economic growth.

The first assessment will be published in spring 2018.


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