Cut energy prices

Just back from an uplifting all staff event in Manchester, I see that a petition has gone up on the No10 Downing Street website asking the PM to get energy companies to cut prices. The deadline for signing is, appropriately enough, Christmas Day.

One energy company chief has just written to me to say “if we do see sustained and significant falls in the wholesale costs of gas and electricity, we will be passing these savings to our customers just as soon as we can.”

Wholesale prices have fallen by at least 22% since July. If this continues and companies choose not to cut prices, then they ought to explain why as their customers will want to know … or want to petition.

Digital inclusion

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Who is getting us all online? I met Helen Milner today who leads efforts across England to promote digital inclusion. 6,000 centres, half of which are libraries, are helping people to find solutions online. 14 million people are not online. We discussed also what companies and service providers should be doing to make sure people offline do not lose out – what does responsibility look like here?

The limits of information

nhsI am giving a talk today alongside David Varney and Ray Shostak about the public service reform programme in England. What has worked and what hasn’t.

One of my warnings is about relying on information alone … this photo is sourced from my social marketing guru colleague, Jeff French.

Digital Rights for Consumers

The World Economic Forum is asking for big ideas for the future and a few of us have got together to press the case for new digital rights for consumers. They include Brian Behlendorf, the key person behind the Apache open source web server, Katherine Garrett-Cox, finance leader, Josef Penninger, the Austrian genetics pioneer, design winner Hilary Cottam and Catalina Cock, who has led the development in Latin America of what I hope will be fair trade gold coming to shops near you soon.

Key rights are things like inclusive access, software interoperability and a more balanced approach to intellectual property. You can read the call for digital rights here – digital_rights_for_consumers_241108.

But I guess we could cast the net more widely too – with all that personal data up on social networks, should everyone have the right to have at least one digital suicide and wipe it clean? Shouldn’t we own data and innovation that we and other users put up in user generated content? Can we take our avatars with us when leaving a virtual world?

Shopping community

Where do you get your recommendations? You might subscribe to Which? magazine for the expert view, or you might turn to other consumers. The US shopping community Kaboodle started by Manish Chandra has grown to a fantastic size, but I am not sure UK shoppers have something yet as comprehensive? Welcome your suggestions on contenders.

Young, gifted and virtual

Children are the fastest growing users of virtual worlds and it is in these new settings that the rules of marketing are being formed – or the old rules flouted. So it is good to hear that six virtual worlds have made it on to the 2008 Family Friendly Awards of the (US) National Parenting association. They include Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Whyville and Disney Pirates of the Caribbean. My personal recommendation, by the way, is the wonderful Whyville…!

Top and bottom

I attended the launch of Consumer Week this morning, with a pantomime production of Cinderella Gets Ripped Off at the Office of Fair Trading (I kid you not). The message is ‘be savvy this Christmas’.

sl380232Gareth Thomas, the Consumer Minister, was very nice about Consumer Focus (our campaigning and media profile “is giving Gordon Brown a run for his money”) and he launched a long-awaited survey on which markets are top and bottom when it comes to a fair deal for consumers.  Gas and electricity came in rock bottom – below home builders. Videos, CDs and DVDs came top.

Nordic Jazz

The Daily Mirror has had a profile of me calling for energy price cuts (let companies share some of the pain with their customers). But it also lists on the side Nordic Jazz among my interests – leading, I have to say, to some bemused enquiries among colleagues at work. I have never been / will never be known for my taste in music (and no, I am no relation to Simon Mayo) but I do commend EST, little known in Britain. And I have promised Natalie at work, my CD of Funky Abba, which soon gets turned off at home whenever I try to sneak it on. 

By coincidence, haakon390there is currently a Nordic Jazz festival on in London. It was opened by Crown Prince Haakon, who is No 1 international Royal consumer champion (as voted by me after hearing earlier this year about his experience shopping in Oslo). Perhaps this is a trend thing after all.

Local services

Local government is not usually thought of as a hotbed of consumer radicalism, but in fact some of the pioneering work on tools like customer segmentation (now used by any major business) were first developed by local authorities on Merseyside, to target regeneration efforts.

A couple of years ago, I helped to kick off a project with Mary Tetlow and the Local Government Association to build a common tool for local authorities to measure people’s experience of services in England. We got some way, but I am pleased to say that the running has now been taken up in Scotland, where the 32 authorities are pledging to work together on a new, rigorous way to ensure that local services meet local needs.