Team talk

I am meeting Viv Sugar first thing. She is the dynamic Chair for the new Welsh Consumer Council – and someone that all staff in Cardiff will probably know or have heard of. 

Then, we have our second Board meeting today. They are looking at some of the strategic questions for the new organisation (like “what is the right balance between speaking for consumers and enabling consumers to speak for themselves?”), and other issues like how to handle vulnerable complaints and the extent to which we raise additional funding for other work, particularly in public services.

There is a team behind the Board team – and, while it is not complete, here is the array of beautiful people you have working on transition at present with me.


Dos and Don’ts

I have finished getting round all the staff teams across the three organisations – and really gained from doing so. It has added a lot to my sense of what we need to do this year, but also suggested some short cuts and better ideas as well. Not sure if this will work, but if you click on this dos-donts.pdf, it might give you a summary of some of the advice ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’ that I got along the way.  Thank you!

The number 83

Back from a couple of days with family over half-term.  

I met up with Sarah Chambers. She is head of Postcomm, the regulator, and we talked about the current review by government now underway of the postal market, how the UK compares to other countries – and what needs to happen next on transition.  

On energy, Alistair Buchanon, head of Ofgem, rang today to let me know of the formal review that energy regulator, Ofgem, has now set in train of the retail market. He cited high levels of consumer concern as a trigger, plus legitimate questions about the speed and concentration of price rises. That sounds like a genuine recognition of energywatch’s high profile campaigning. He indicated that the very earliest they would report will be to their Board in September 2008. So one way or another, this will be top of the in-tray for the new NCC.

Like waiting at the bus stop in the rain for a number 83, you wait for one review, then along come two… and out comes the sun.

The waterman

jan-2008-077.jpgDropped by Consumer Council for Water to say hello (and let them know how the transition is going). Here is a pic of Tony, who is Chief Exec, together with his wonderful teapot.

Perhaps it is the training, perhaps the induction, but the organisation, CCWater for short, make the most fantastic tea – pot warmed, milk warmed and everything says CCW’s Jenny. Any water, any problem, CCW is where to go.


Wow. Daniel Day-Lewis, the god, kicked off his thank you speech for his BAFTA mentioning my daughter’s school in Charlton!!! I realise this is of interest to maybe one person, but if that is you, check it out here 

and listen to the sound of 180 primary school kids working on the blue plaque for the playground…

The Peterborough Test

Sunny Birmingham again to see the Midlands and East team for Postwatch – thanks for travelling in – and a masterclass on the benefits of homeworking!

We coined the ‘Peterborough test’ for the new organisation. When mail delivery fell through the fllor in Peterborough (metaphorically speaking), Lynda and team were able to lobby for change. The test is: how will the new NCC spot where things are going wrong and campaign at the right level to put them right in cases like Peterborough? 

Steve, Shirley, Ros, me, Lynda, Dawnjan-2008-075.jpg

My gran

One of the most surprising things about turning up for work in Artillery House, hosted by energywatch, is that my great grandfather apparently used to work here too. He worked for a builders company, Atlas Stone. My mum told me. And my son has asked whether he will work here too when he is older!

jan-2008-068.jpgAlong the street is a jewellers that my granny used, has been around for years. They get the prize for the most eccentric consumer notice in a shop I have seen, as shown here.

By and large, I have to discount family views though. My daughter thinks the new organisation should be called ‘Daddy’s Consumer Place’…um, NOT! But we are open to ideas on names with a fabulous jaw-dropping prize of a (small) book token to the winning entry. Thanks, Andy and Postwatch colleagues, for your starters for ten: you’re in the lead.

Village news

jan-2008-065.jpgA welcome return to the Bradford Chamber of Commerce for me, where the Postwatch team operates. They cover 17 million people and the closure programme means they are intrepid travellers. More advice, not least on the North / South divide (and the East / West divide too, re Pennines): “what really annoys people is if you can’t pronounce the name of their village.”

I spoke at a Citizens Advice event on utility complaints, with colleagues, Carlene, Audrey and Gillian from energywatch present. They have put together an excellent report on hanging on the line, with signs that banks are getting better but energy and telecoms companies, by and large, having a long way to go. Hanging on the line, says NCC, is the number one consumer gripe….

No magic wand

Gale force winds took me to Belfast, from visiting the Birmingham energywatch team. I am learning new things with every team I see. Cherry talked me through what she saw as the pitfalls of dealing with people who have problems “It is making me ill. I can’t cope. You have to solve it.” was what one man had said to her that morning. But there is no magic wand and people can feel let down that a watchdog has no powers. We need to shape people’s expectations, she cautions.

Thursday morning with the Consumer Council. Lovely to see Carol again who is the modest star in their highly successful work on consuemr education. They have given out half a million shoppers rights cards in Northern Ireland, which has 1.7 million people. Afternoon with the Postwatch team – a raw, but special, meeting and a real privilege to meet the staff.

Here is Denise in the Postwatch office in Belfast, with the staff party photos!