Parcel delivery charges ministerial roundtable minutes: June 2018
- Energy and Climate Change Directorate
Minutes of the ministerial roundtable regarding parcel delivery charges that took place on 27 June 2018.
Attendees and apologies
- Paul Wheelhouse MSP – Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Chair)
- Paul Allum, DPD
- Emma Bailey, Citizens Advice
- Justin Blackie, The DX
- Amanda Burgauer, Scottish Rural Action
- Richard Currie, UPS
- John French, Northern Ireland Consumer Council
- Robert Gwyn, Hermes
- Jenny Hall, Royal Mail
- Kristen Hartman, Citizens Advice Scotland
- Martyn James, Resolver
- Zoe Laird, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
- Richard Lochhead, MSP Moray
- Shabnum Mustapha, Advertising Standards Authority
- David MacKenzie, Highland Council Trading Standards
- Fraser MacLean, Menzies Distribution
- Kellin McCloskey, Northern Ireland Consumer Council
- Gareth Moran, Office of MSP Moray
- Trudy Morris, Scottish Chambers of Commerce
- Sandra Patterson, Kids Bee Happy
- Julian Pace, Scottish Enterprise
- David Richardson, FSB Scotland
- Fiona Richardson, Trading Standards Scotland
- Jonathan Ruff, OfCom Scotland
- Cris Sowden, Consumer Protection Partnership
- Allan Walker, DPD
- Sean Jamieson – Scottish Government
- Lorraine King - Scottish Government
- Wendy McCutcheon – Scottish Government (Secretariat)
- Kevin West – Scottish Government
Items and actions
1. Welcome and introductions
The Minister welcomed everyone to the roundtable and explained that in light of the recent Ministerial reshuffle, he was keen to see through this roundtable due to its importance; and he now also had responsibility for Islands. The Minister stated that although much of the focus on parcel delivery charges has been on the remote northern parts of Scotland, many areas of Scotland are affected by high charges, refusal to deliver, misleading use of the term ‘free mainland delivery’ and consumers only finding out about these at the end of their transaction. Reports from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) highlight these issues especially in rural areas.
The Minister thanked organisations such as CAS, CMA and Highland Council Trading Standards for their excellent work in highlighting these issues and attempting to improve services. He also highlighted that the Scottish Government has long called for an end to unfair delivery charges but was frustrated with the limited action that can be taken as this is a reserved area. It is only the UK Government that has the power to regulate parcel deliveries and only they can compel meaningful change.
It was also acknowledged that many of Scotland’s SMEs, especially in the far north, do not charge for the extra delivery charges they incur to send parcels as this would make them uncompetitive with larger organisations. Many businesses are also not e-commerce enabled – there needs to be a new business model to allow High Streets to thrive along with meeting consumer needs.
The Minister said that this meeting would be held under Chatham House Rules. The issue of the Lobbying register was raised. Scottish Government officials would check and advise attendees.
The Minister introduced the format of the meeting highlighting the need for everyone to participate and that he hoped we would all leave today’s meeting with a commitment to focus on solutions and to work together to provide these solutions. There then followed a roundtable introduction before the Minister introduced agenda item 2
2. Advertising Standards Authority
3. Consumer Protection Partnership
Cris Sowden is project lead for the parcel surcharging project at CPP. The CPP brings together key partners within the consumer landscape, including the Scottish Government, to identify, prioritise and co-ordinate collective action to tackle those issues causing greatest consumer harm. In 2017, key partners (including non-CPP members) were brought together to look at parcel surcharging on a UK-wide basis and two broad concerns were identified:
- Transparency and accuracy – this was where some retailers were failing to explain exceptions to their UK delivery claims and / or failing to provide up-front details on where delivery surcharging and other restrictions apply.
- Level and fairness of parcel surcharges – various pieces of research found delivery costs of parcels to varying degrees are higher in certain areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- Revised business guidance and communications
- Launch of new website – a one stop portal for consumers, businesses and practitioners launched on 22 June 2018 – www.deliverylaw.uk. Trading Standards Scotland funded this and it is hosted by Highland Council.
- Highland Trading Standards, as CPP members, engaged with over 200 companies to ensure compliance as part of co-ordinated enforcement and compliance action.
- Consumer advice was also reviewed in June 2018.
It was noted that as the majority of the businesses are based in England and Wales Trading Standards Services across the UK need to consider the complaints as part of their prioritisation of work. One aim of the portal is to help support consumers with advice, templates to complain and provides a complaint reporting functionality which will be used by consumer protection organisations to inform compliance and enforcement approaches. Cris urged all attendees to refer all their contacts to this database as this would allow robust data gathering.
There is still a challenge to understanding why some Scottish and Northern Irish consumers pay higher delivery costs. As part of their future work, CPP will produce revised guidelines for online retailers and consider options for industry to develop industry solutions for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
4. Open discussion
Lorraine King of the Scottish Government’s Consumer and Competition Policy Unit led the discussions on all the themes. The focus of each theme was on practical ways in which we could move the discussion on from identifying the issues towards practical solutions.
Theme 1 – Using consumer powers for awareness raising
- the development of an annual statement on the Scottish Government website highlighting good and bad practices especially amongst retailers along with case studies.
- the commissioning and publishing of a full independent economic analysis of what constitutes “fair” delivery prices, which will provide transparency to the public, retailers and delivery companies. This should include research on excessive or hidden delivery charges.
- Fair Delivery Day on Cyber Monday (26 November 2018) – this day could be used for consumers to share their experience of parcel delivery services; highlighting good practices; making consumers aware of their rights along with ensuring they are aware of why surcharging exists; and the difference between surcharging and excessive / hidden charges.
Theme 2 – Fair and transparent costs for consumers and businesses in rural locations
Theme 3 – Greater collaboration between retailers and delivery companies
The issue for discussion three was a community / island distribution hub or network of hubs based in the Highlands that could be a solution if industry supported it.
It was noted that the retail industry body was not at this roundtable as they had been unable to accept their invite due to diary clashes.
5. Richard Lochhead MSP Moray
6. Round up and next steps
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