The Scottish government was consulting – till 11th September – on a Bill to establish Consumer Scotland as a body that will identify consumer harm as a starting point only. Its primary goal will be to develop and advocate for practical solutions. To do this, it will have four key functions:
- to provide strategic oversight of the consumer landscape to develop a full understanding of how markets work for consumers in Scotland and ensure resources are targeted to tackle harm;
- to conduct in-depth investigations into areas where harm in Scotland is most acute and recommend solutions;
- to facilitate access to a consumer advice system that meets individual consumer needs and aggregates collective data to support prevention work; and
- to comment on Scottish Government policy with significant impact on consumers, and support public authorities in Scotland to comply with a statutory consumer duty.
Jeremy Mitchell has submitted a particularly cogent set of comments for the consultation endorsing the creation of such a body. Jeremy makes the point with which we wholly agree that while other organisations such as Which?, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Trading Standards service all work for the consumer interest ”none of these organisations has an over-arching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the interests of consumers in Scotland, Consumer Scotland’s primary function.”
And of course this is equally true of other parts of the UK – we mourn still the dismantling of an effective structure for consumer representation in England and Wales and it follows, the UK as a whole. This is not a bout of predictable nostalgia about how much better things were in the past but an issue that will be on the agenda post-Brexit with a whole load of consumer protection legislation to be incorporated into UK law – most of which is reserved to Westminster. Readers will know that with existing EU-based legislation being incorporated into UK law as foreseen in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the UK government will start reviewing of this legislation to see which legal instruments it considers should be amended or abolished. Mitchell points out “The great bulk of UK-wide consumer protection legislation will fall within this category of EU-retained law and will therefore come under scrutiny. There is a clear danger that the legislative structure of consumer protection throughout the UK will be seriously eroded. It is crucially important that the interests of consumers in Scotland should be identified and represented in this process.”
Hear! Hear! And of course not just in Scotland – who will do this job firstly in England and then bring together the views expressed on behalf of all consumers in the UK – the same body or a different one? The NCF will have our say but the job is too big for us to tackle with our present resources. Bring back a UK forum for the consumer interest is a view we will putting very strongly to the powers that be. Can we help form a consumer coalition to speak for all UK consumers?