As the TV time devoted Margaret Thatcher rises, I passed her birthplace today in Grantham…

The event was a trading standards conference where I was introducing the work of Consumer Focus. It felt modest, but Ron Gainsford tells me that Britain spends 210 million pounds on trading standards. Comment of the day, after the good news this morning on the court of appeal upholding the OFT on bank charges, was Phil who talked of banks as “cowboys in suits”.

The interesting thing with the OFT court ruling (and a huge well done to all those involved in this campaign) is whether it opens the door to looking at some of the other dodgy and hidden small print consumers have complained about as unfair contract terms… maybe we can take a leaf from Maggie’s book and take them all on?

Why care about social care?

I spoke this morning at the first Board meeting of the newly reorganised London TravelWatch led by Sharon Grant. One of their great strengths is that they represent people in all the different modes of transport – drivers, bus users, pedestrians – so can help join things up. Good luck to them!

Then I was on a panel at a Counsel and Care conference on older people’s care. There was an interesting presentation from the company Tunstall on how technology is beginning to change care. One mother of a child with disabilities said “I have been able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in many years, as I no longer have to stay awake at night worrying.” They argue that one million people using ‘telecare’ could save 5.3 billion in five years time.

But there are big claims and big issues across social care policy – with a Green Paper on social care in England expected soon. There is a real sense of momentum around personalised budgets, with places like Oldham showing the way – but equally a recognition that there are limits, risks and in particular resources are a big issue. Who pays for care and are local authorities cutting back? Malcolm Dean, a fellow trustee on the Young Foundation, has found that we spend twice the amount now on social care but help half the number of people.

The truth is that the economy and society rests on a bedrock of care. Money is tight, but the recession forces us to rethink our priorities, as the longer challenge of climate change does. Both may mean that we need to value care, harness new people-centred technologies and invest more as a society in the gentle, low-carbon art of local help for local people.

Your money, your rights

Thanks to Daniel for sending me this link to an excellent resource from the Citizenship Foundation – they are working hard to raise money to get it out to sixth forms around the country. image001

More on Barbie


Here is the 5 minute BBC Today Programme interview with Agnes on Consumer Kids and Barbie’s 50th birthday.

There is also an article on ‘Barbie Girls Play Rough’ by Agnes on BBC.

For the full and amazing story of the new barbie barbarians, get yourself a copy of Consumer Kids.

You can then also find out about Action Man… and what young boys learn about life from David Beckham!

1.2 million pounds

great news that the complaint we made to the energy regulator Ofgem last year (as energywatch) on Npower means that the company will have to repay 1.2 million pounds to consumers.

Yes, it’s Barbie!

Barbie is fifty years old this year. In our book Consumer Kids, we reveal that girls have a love hate relationship with the doll – with some ending up torturing their Barbies. You can read how and why in Consumer Kids – you can also hear it over the airwaves tomorrow morning, when Agnes is interviewed about the book and about Barbie on Radio 4’s Today programme around 8.30am.

Anybody have Barbie pictures to send?

Monique – a force for good

Let me introduce you to Moniqmoniqueue, who is Europe’s leading consumer campaigner. Monique runs the European alliance, BEUC, and is a lawyer by training.

Her greatest concern at present? The ham-fisted EU Consumer Rights Directive which concerns every single consumer in their everyday life.

Has she ever been ripped off? Monique purchased a new house in her village, 40 kms from Brussels, but almost a year on, there are problems throughout the house including the central heating. In the UK, there are others in the same state. If you buy a house you have less rights to get something put right than if you bought a toaster.

What to read? The new EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard which ranks different sectors for good and bad service. Energy companies, banks and telecoms firms come out worst… so it is not just the UK

Krypton factor for consumers

imagesSean, who is joing us in Cardiff as IT lead, is on Krypton Factor tonight. He joins a fairly formidable set of media spotlight brains at Consumer Focus Wales – with Pete, Kim and others having won, won, won on TV quiz shows late in 2008.

Consumer Kids makes an impact


I am chuffed to say that WH Smiths have withdrawn the Playboy range of stationery that I criticise in my new book Consumer Kids.

I blogged on this in December, after giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament with Agnes, my co-author. Edd commented on the entry that there were more urgent concerns in the world, but Kate said that she felt passionately that this was taking away children’s childhoods – which is pretty much the headline of the article in the Daily Mail this morning and the Telegraph online.

No doubt WH Smith can make as money from another range as they won’t have to pay the Playboy license, but as I said to to the WH Smith CEO in dialogue before the book launch, the Playboy range normalises pornography and whether they withdraw it for commercial or for ethical reasons, it is going to be welcome.

Well done, WH Smith.