The Scottish Government will use its competition powers to ensure that Scotland's markets are competitive and fair to consumers and, where this is not the case, to work with stakeholders to develop the appropriate evidence to address these concerns. The Strategic Assessment of Markets in Scotland is the first step in highlighting markets that may not be working well for Scottish consumers.
Our distinct economic, social and geographic circumstances provide challenges in ensuring that markets work well for Scottish consumers. Scotland has a substantial rural population who often face different issues from urban consumers including in accessing key services and choosing providers in regulated markets. Scotland is also characterised by an increasing ageing population and considerable deprivation which means there are an increasing number of potentially vulnerable consumers who need effective protection when purchasing goods and services.
Competitive markets work best when consumers are empowered to make decisions and when businesses innovate to respond to consumer demand. Disruptive technologies bring significant benefits to consumers but it is important to ensure that consumers are protected and that any regulation is fair and proportionate. Businesses' awareness of competition law and engagement with competition policy remains low and more can be done to increase this engagement.
In the regulated sectors, consumer engagement levels remain low, and seem to be lower in Scotland, meaning there is little competitive pressure on businesses. Scottish consumers also face specific issues across the regulated sectors, in part due to our geographic and social make-up, and it is important that these issues are considered.
Well-informed consumers are a critical part of a functioning market. In both public and private markets, consumers often face complex decisions without clear information about prices and services available. In the property market, despite a series of market reforms, consumer switching of property factors and awareness of the opportunity to switch remain low. Similarly, in the market for legal services, consumers are unaware of the distinction between unregulated legal services, which are not covered by the same protections, and regulated legal services. More can be done to ensure that consumers are well informed of their choices and options.
The provision of public transport is an area where competition, regulation and public provision must be carefully balanced. In particular in rural areas, access to affordable and reliable public transport is essential in order to provide people with access to essential services such as health, education and work. In all transport markets, it is important to ensure the service is working well for consumers and that consumers are confident and knowledgeable.