Thanks v v to Sally who has sent me these photos of the Red Lion pub in Trefeglwys, Wales, which will now offer post office services. The post office terminal lines go in this week and the pool room has been converted to a community shop, as well as housing the post office. Community services will be a key issue for Consumer Focus. So we will keep an eye and best of luck to them – it will give ‘the local’ a new meaning.

Postwatch walks on water

I have just joined the Postwatch Wales committee for an evening to mark their achievements, with Eifion, their Chair.

One of the challenges the team has made successfully on post office closures was the Panally post office, where the community was told that they had an alternative within three miles.

Yes, but only on Caldy island over the water, the team argued – and won the day.


While the staff matching steps up a gear this week, we have kicked off an important research commission which is to look at the experience of micro-enterprises as consumers. Richard from Corona Energy left a comment on this blog in August, suggesting we be open to small business. The answer is yes, we are – our Extra Help Unit will serve enterprises that are vulnerable. But alongside this, we are commissioning what I think will turn out to be ground-breaking research that looks at micro-enterprises as consumers.

I think of micro-enterprises as kitchen table businesses, learning from my time as a patron of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies. In the media, business is equated with ‘big business’, or small business indeed which can still cover firms with staff of a couple of hundred. The structure of business in the UK is in fact like a feudal structure, with the largest number of firms at the level of least employees. These are consumers of services and often highly dependent on them, like banking, where they don’t traditionally get the best deal, through to post and energy. In a world of eBay and user-generated content, who consumes and who produces is starting to blur anyway, so the answers from this landmark research should be of very wide benefit and will inform our campaigning.

Cold comfort

Richard (Bates) has sent over a copy of energywatch’s hard-hitting report on life in fuel poverty. This is an emergency and the work is excellent in exposing the costs and the trade-offs of life coping with being fuel poor.

Prices up, dividends up, campaigns up

I am delighted to see work by the wonderful Jonathan Stearn at energywatch (whose annual report press release is here), develop an upcoming new campaign coalition that Consumer Focus will work with on fuel poverty. Meanwhile research by the Local Government Association shows that at a time of rising prices for consumers, dividend payments by companies to shareholders have risen from £1.378 billion in 2006 to £1.635 billion in 2007, a 19 per cent increase and equivalent to £75 per household.

Fair Wind

I met up with Chris Graham of the Advertising Standards Authority for a brief escape from the key task of sifting job roles for matching. I spoke at their event on greenwash earlier in the year and Chris was giving me advice having merged organisations at the ASA when they took on broadcast advertising – in fact in the face of some concern from the NCC

We talked about marketing online to children, where my strong view, having done the research, is that corporate websites like Barbie ought to be classified as advertising and subject to the rules of the game. Chris calls it “the elephant in the room.”

We also discussed the week’s Radio 4 Programme Investigations on wind energy – which is well worth a listen.

The customer is king… and emperor

One month to go and this is a week of sifting results across the remaining pools. One interview exercise we have used (for the senior appointment in Scotland) is to give a presentation on the theme “is the consumer always right?” Great mix of answers.

For far less serious a view, see this lego star wars video of what happens when the customer is not just king… but head of the Death Star.