Scotland's economy depends on its consumers. From buying houses, to opening bank accounts, to purchasing everyday necessities, they are instrumental in stimulating business innovation and driving competitive business growth across the country.
Consumers who feel confident that they will be treated fairly and that their rights will be protected are better placed to choose businesses that will treat them well and to avoid rogue traders that disadvantage legitimate businesses through their unscrupulous behaviour. It is imperative that we have a consumer protection system that is effective, flexible and capable of both protecting consumers from harm and empowering them to make good choices. Where markets are competitive, consumers will have the ability to support businesses which are innovative, efficient and fair.
As the First Minister has said, "there is a burning desire across our country to build a more prosperous, fairer and better Scotland". The Scottish Government's vision for consumer protection in Scotland is aligned with this aspiration. We are committed to creating confident and knowledgeable consumers in Scotland and markets that work for businesses and consumers.
The interests of consumers will sit at the heart of economic regulation and policy making. We recognise that some tension between the consumer and business interest is inevitable, but it is also welcome. We want to empower consumers to make good choices and protect themselves, and will ensure that those who need extra help, either because of specific situations or long term circumstances, are supported. At the same time, we will stand up for legitimate businesses in Scotland by holding those that flout the law to account. We want to transform the culture so that consumer protection is a tool for businesses to improve and stay competitive, rather than a burden.
Improvements to the consumer protection system will be complemented by a drive for consumer-focused regulation and a competition policy that understands Scotland's social, economic and geographic landscape and has the necessary expertise to ensure that these specific circumstances are reflected.
Under the Scotland Bill (as amended), competence for consumer advocacy and advice will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Ministers will also gain the power to act with the Secretary of State to request the Competition and Markets Authority ( CMA) to carry out a second stage market investigation. These changes give us an opportunity to make real improvements for Scottish consumers.
In June last year, I established an independent Working Group on Consumer and Competition Policy for Scotland. Its remit was to consider the best arrangements for consumer protection and competition in Scotland and to advise the Scottish Government on how best to deliver our vision for consumers. The Working Group's final report was published in October 2015 and made a total of 46 recommendations.
We are extremely grateful for the considerable time and energy given by the members of the Working Group and for the excellent support provided by Expert Panels. This paper provides our initial response to the Working Group's recommendations for improved delivery in Scotland of the four pillars of consumer protection - advocacy, advice (including information and education), enforcement and redress - as well as competition policy.
The Working Group's input will be instrumental as we start work to develop a Consumer and Competition Strategy for Scotland and take decisions on the most appropriate delivery mechanisms for consumer advice and advocacy in Scotland.
Over the coming months, we will be engaging with stakeholders in order to develop detailed proposals for implementation. In the meantime, we would welcome comments on both the Working Group's recommendations and this paper.
Email: Chris Park, email@example.com