2. Key characteristics of Consumer Scotland
In 2004, the Scottish Consumer Council stated "When we talk about consumers, we mean people who purchase or use particular goods or services, whether provided in the public, private, or voluntary sector. However, our interest as citizens is likely to be wider, taking into account a general interest in our society as a whole"  . We believe this definition is still as relevant today, as are the key issues it identified for any consumer organisation:
- being clear about the different issues facing consumers and citizens;
- having a basis in statute;
- being independent and being seen to be independent;
- representing and promoting the interests of those most in need;
- having a policy-making function which is sensitive to the needs of consumers and stakeholders in Scotland;
- appointing the right people in the right way;
- being accountable;
- having statutory powers and knowing when to use them appropriately; and
- being given enough funding to be effective.
Additionally the Working Group believes that Consumer Scotland should consult annually on its work plan and ensure it has appropriate data management protocols.
The Working Group also notes that Consumer Scotland will require to be intelligence-led to carry out its advice functions successfully. This would entail developing robust data sharing protocols for use both amongst consumer advice providers and between consumer advice providers and the other three consumer pillars and competition. A 'common framework' for data sharing agreed by all agencies and a central repository for general information could allow agencies to share best practice and lessons learned as well as identify and highlight trends of consumer harm.
Analysis of this intelligence by Consumer Scotland should direct activity at a strategic level, while operational control should remain the responsibility of delivery partners. This intelligence should also be used to inform the work of the other consumer pillars, particularly advocacy and enforcement.
The Working Group suggests Consumer Scotland could enhance its intelligence gathering capability by working in close collaboration with a Consumer Protection Partnership ( CPP). The UK CPP's current role is to identify, prioritise and co-ordinate joint action to deal with the issues causing greatest harm to consumers; however, this CPP only meets periodically. The Working Group believes Consumer Scotland and a Scottish CPP could improve on this model by feeding data back in real time, through effective intelligence/data sharing.
Email: Peter Irving, firstname.lastname@example.org