Attendees and apologies
- Keith Brown MSP - Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Chair)
- Shabnum Mustapha – Advertising Standards Authority
- Brendan Dick – BT Scotland
- Jo Armstrong – Business Economist
- Susan McPhee - Citizens Advice Scotland
- Peter Freeman CBE QC (Hon) – Competition Appeal Tribunal
- Arianna Andreangeli – University of Edinburgh
- Phil Evans – Independent Consultant
- Fiona Richardson - Trading Standards Scotland
- Prof Liam Delaney – University College Dublin
- Sonia Brown – Visa Europe
- Sue Kearns - Scottish Government
- Chris Stark - Scottish Government
- Louise Sutherland - Scottish Government
- Wendy McCutcheon – Scottish Government (Secretariat)
- Lorraine King - Scottish Government
Items and actions
1. Welcome and introductions
The Chair welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Ministerial Taskforce on Consumers and Markets and then invited introductions from members and their involvement with consumer and market issues. Apologies were noted.
The Chair outlined the background to the establishment of the Taskforce in light of Scotland’s new powers on consumer advocacy and advice, and to request competition market investigations. Two guiding principles will drive everything the Scottish Government does in these areas. The first being the desire to improve outcomes for consumers including putting consumers at the centre of government and regulatory decision-making. The second is developing a system that focuses on issues that particularly impact on consumers in Scotland.
The Chair highlighted that the Taskforce’s role is to take action on the most detrimental consumer issues affecting people and businesses in Scotland and that he wishes it to be action-focused in tackling these issues. A pipeline of potential projects had previously been circulated that had been compiled from a call for evidence; available evidence from key consumer and competition stakeholders and in light of the guiding principles proposed for the Taskforce. The Chair invited members’ views on these potential projects as well as thoughts on other projects that should be considered.
2. Context setting
Chris Stark provided an overview around why consumers should be at the heart of his work and his ambitions for this policy area. Key points were:
- The model of government in Scotland. Economic policy making has been growing over the past 15-20 years and although there has always been a consumer focus, it hasn’t been at the forefront of decision making with competition concerns falling further behind.
- The limited powers in the Scotland Act have sharpened the need for a much more disciplined approach on consumer issues and the consumer and competition team is being expanded to enable it to challenge on a range of consumer issues. It is also important to develop regulatory and economic disciplines for consumer and competition which should develop in a single place.
- Energy is one area in which the Scottish Government is closest to the economic regulation and that was why a conscious decision was made to move consumer issues to the Energy and Climate Change Directorate. The Directorate has also taken responsibility for Scottish Water, which has a successful approach to regulation and consumers with the Customer Forum playing an important role.
- The Taskforce points the way towards an approach to consumer and market issues such as:
- Drawing in evidence of potential concerns / harms from a range of sources – and possibly being quite public eg an inquiry-led approach.
- Applying a consistent ‘toolkit’ to the consideration of these issues to provide a robust, objective assessment of the issues.
- Using the full range of powers and policymaking tools available to Scottish Ministers to improve or remedy the issues.
- Considering a ‘triage’ approach to the use of the powers for consumer advocacy and protection – in particular, a clear framework for making use of the referral to the CMA.
- Six months between now and the August Taskforce meeting is a really important period; it will include the work on Consumer Scotland and the preparations for a Bill.
- The ambition in all of this is for consumer issues to take root at the heart of policymaking with the consumer team championing the citizen first angle.
- There are parallels with the climate change journey, turning carbon reduction from target into a quasi-regulatory requirement, and establishing it as a fundamental consideration about the future in an intrinsic sense.
3. Remit of taskforce
The remit (Paper 2) was discussed and it was agreed that it should be expanded to reflect:
- the Taskforce’s focus in supporting the consumer first policy approach
- that a project or an idea could positively influence the wider UK position not just Scotland
- the need to future proof work given the rapid advances of technology/data and how fast markets are changing
- to widen the reference to the organisations that the Taskforce should work with and to include reference to the public and third sectors to take account of developments there as well as in the private sector
- to take account of the need for a Scottish approach in light of the different culture and behaviour of consumers as well as other factors such as rurality
It was agreed that the Secretariat would circulate an updated remit.
4. Project pipeline
Sue Kearns set out the context of the paper and highlighted that:
The pipeline is very much an initial list of projects with members invited to shape and take ownership of the pipeline process and decide on which issues they wished to prioritise and take action on.
The focus on further action is key for the Taskforce to ensure it makes a difference. It needs a clear way for assessing and understanding where there are consumer and market issues in Scotland and to take action on those areas that the Taskforce decides needs it.
The current pipeline was drawn from a variety of intelligence sources that the Scottish Government is aware of including the call for evidence, data from stakeholders or intelligence from the various consumer issues that have been raised with the team.
Further work is needed on the assessment of what markets look like for consumers and businesses in Scotland and one of the pipeline projects for consideration is how to develop a process to do this.
The guiding principles have been used to identify the initial proposed projects. These aim to identify issues which are clearly causing detriment to a group of consumers or businesses in Scotland, are not yet the focus of other organisation’s work or are simply too complex an issue for one body to tackle on their own and has the scope for tangible or practical action.
There was a wide ranging discussion on the paper with members discussing the projects as set out in the paper.
On the Register of Vulnerable Consumers (project 1), it was noted that the trust of consumers was often overlooked. One point that kept emerging was that consumers behaved how they do – not how we want them to. The ability to share data was discussed along with the need for strong governance for data sharing. There was also a discussion around what the benefit was for having a centralised database and the views of vulnerable people around being registered. It was agreed there was a need to think more about the purpose of the project; expand how it is framed and what outcome is being sought.
It was suggested that the first two projects are toolkits and not projects which once tackled could apply to other projects. Redress would be another area which could be added to this toolkit.
Another theme to emerge from the discussion was the need for a framework and to produce evidence such as the proposed Scottish Consumer Markets Scoreboard. Having robust evidence is paramount to ensuring that consumer and market concerns are tackled effectively and are integrated into policymaking more efficiently than currently is the case. There is also a need for the Taskforce to develop a reliable and robust source to monitor market conditions. Horizon scanning was also raised with potential future issues such as business banking, social care and housing noted.
On the Tackling Problem Debt (project 3), the group felt that there was already good work going on that they could tap into such as that of Stepchange and the Citizens Advice Bureau. One of the questions raised by members was the drop in payday lending customers which hadn’t been reflected elsewhere despite the fact their need for credit hasn’t disappeared. There could also be work around advice and financial education for young people. It was highlighted that within the Scottish Government there is already a body of work being done on these issues and if any of the group wished to be part of the ongoing work then to let Secretariat know. In relation to banking and over-indebtedness, the Scotcash project was cited as a good model for banking and Fiona Richardson agreed to provide the group with further information.
In relation to Improving Outcomes for Non Domestic Energy Consumers (project 4), the group agreed that there is a need to map consumers to gauge how markets operate. It was suggested that small businesses should be captured within this mapping exercise as many small business problems are not dissimilar to those of consumers. It would also be a good way to obtain information around how businesses are run in Scotland.
In conclusion it was agreed that:
the projects on Tackling Problem Debt and Improving Outcomes for Non Domestic Energy consumers consumer work should be taken forward as proposed in the paper and updates provided at the meeting in August
updates to be provided at the August meeting on the work being done around the Unified Register of Vulnerable Consumers, and on Brexit
the Scottish Consumer Markets Scoreboard work should be taken forward to provide an evidence base on what is different about both the consumer and the markets base in Scotland across all sectors; this will provide the basis for identifying Scottish issues
an agenda item should be added for future meetings that will enable members to provide any updates on areas of interest
members to let Secretariat know if they wish to champion any areas
5. Any other business
It was agreed that there would be ongoing dialogue between the Taskforce members and members including on the Scottish Consumer Markets Scoreboard work. The Chair was thanked for establishing the Taskforce and the work associated with it.
6. Date and time of next meeting
The Chair thanked all members for attending and for their invaluable contribution to the meeting. The next meeting of the Taskforce has been arranged for Thursday 23 August 2018 in St Andrew’s House from 9 am until 11 am.
|Action number||Owner||Agreed action||Status|
|2||Secretariat||Discuss with members their suggestions for the updated remit.|
|3||Secretariat||Develop an approach for evidence gathering on consumer and markets in Scotland across all sectors.|
|4||Secretariat||Take forward actions on Tackling Problem Debt and Improving Outcomes for Non Domestic Energy Projects and provide update at August meeting.|
|5||Secretariat||Unified Register of Vulnerable Consumer and Brexit to be including on agenda for August’s meeting.|
|6||Secretariat||Standing item on agenda – update from members on relevant aspects of their work.|
|7||Secretariat||Minutes to be circulated within two weeks of meeting.|
|8||Members||Volunteer to champion specific projects.|
|9||Members||Any members who wish to circulate reports, etc please forward to Secretariat for circulation around the group.|
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