£1,000 in debt

Very good to be back and lots to move on. I visited the Northamption Dataforce call centre today that will transfer from energywatch to Consumer Direct under the new arrangements. Some of the calls I heard were enough to remind me pretty quick why campaigning is needed – someone registered as disabled turning to their company to ask what the best social tariff they should be on, and yet, today, finding out that they are £1,000 in debt when a better rate would have left them £500 better off. It should not happen, not to one person, not to so many.

if you missed it by the way (and I did being away), the Sun editorial from earlier this month is “The Sun Says: all power to consumer champion Ed Mayo. He’s got his work cut out combating every one of the million ways in which Brits are ripped off”.

Back to work then…

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Holiday

This blog signs off for two weeks as I go off on family holiday.

A nice leaving meeting was with the excellent Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, who called me in to talk about parents as consumers. They are overhauling the complaints system as a direct result of my past lobbying and they are now looking at parents and governance (go to Scotland, I said). I am a member of something called the National Council on Educational Excellence and we were talking about engaging parents. He left me with a parting gift for my daughter, who has had her SATS results – a handwritten note “I hear you are working really hard! Keep it up, Jim”

Frontline, breadline

Malcolm Hurlston from CCCS, one of the leading consumer advice services, tells me that enquiries on consumer debt related to credit have collapsed (as there’s no new credit), but that household bills are now biting. On their data, since january 2004, gas bills have risen 60%, electricity 40% and RPI for people in need risen 20%. So yesterday’s issue might have been excessive and irresponsible lending. Tomorrow’s will be not enough lending and people being cut off.

Merger news: what’s not clear and what should be

“Its not clear, Ed, how people and matched to roles and what is going on” is what I heard yesterday talking to policy colleagues from energywatch – and I have pretty much heard the same from everyone else involved in the merger! So I am sorry. If things are looking unclear or bad, it is certainly not a matter of intention. There is no conspiracy, no attempt to screw anyone, but there is sheer logistics as we get to where everyone want to be (complexity, due process, number of parties, holidays…). And we are, with staff involvement, still on course to achieve – the GOAL.  

The goal? This is what we are clear about. By the end of September, every member of staff across energywatch, Postwatch and the Consumer Councils should know whether they are moving forward in the new organisation or moving on, with redundancy packages.

Of course, I have other goals after this, top of which are to create a wonderful new consumer champion, to touch the lives of people across Britain for the better, to do so at a time of rising prices, where consumer rights are a survival agenda, to bring down fuel poverty and to redefine consumerism in line with sustainable living. 

But, this is what happens next. 

First, I have picked up on the positive suggestions made (golden rule of influencing Ed over next 55 days: ‘when you are finished sounding off, offer a positive solution’). So we have password-protected the HR information on our extranet – as asked. We are acknowledging appeals faster – as asked. We are doing an explanation of the sifting process – as asked. We are saying what information we can’t give, for due process, not just what we can – as asked. Etc.

As time gets shorter and the deadline looms, things will look and feel rougher – and the October 1st date less like a simple step into a fully-formed new organisation (and it is NOT going to be like that, not least because people make an organisation so we need to form it and find our feet in concert). Feedback from staff can help in making things right, because we are in it together in terms of aiming to treat everyone fairly and ensuring that, by the end of September, everyone knows what their next steps are. Consumer Focus can then start to take wing.

This week and next

This week has been interviews for selection on some of the senior roles, so I have been travelling around Glasgow, Cardiff and London. It is always a pleasure and a privilege to have days to ask questions and listen to good people. I hope it was an ok experience to those on the other side of the table!

I also visited Allan Asher, who is recuperating at home.  We sat in his colourful garden, with the evening sun and Karl Jenkins playing in the background. We also raised a glass to energywatch and the BERR Select Committee, whose report is a real boost to the team’s campaign on better energy markets.

Next week will undoubtedly be lots more on the home front, but I have one intriguing meeting scheduled with Eric Lee who has been at the forefront of web-based advocacy in the union movement.