John Denham, the shadow Business Secretary, has asked me to lead an investigation to try and get a better deal for consumers in UK markets.
It is a good offer and I am pleased that consumer interests are coming back to the fore of political debate. There was an excellent consumer White Paper from the Government earlier this year which focused on new ways to open up information and choices for consumers, but the reality since seems to have been a catalogue of drip drip scandals of mis-selling and hiked prices.
I have had some welcome offers of input and support, starting this morning, following a trailer in the Guardian, from the super Australian consumer group, Choice (there’s a proper consumer champion for you) and soon after, the Financial Inclusion Centre which has emerged with the most effective and informed critique of today’s mainstream financial disservices sector.
The investigation itself will happen alongside my core focus and work in the co-op sector, thanks to the Co-operatives UK Board, and alongside our work with other parties on this and other issues in and out of government across the UK. What it looks like will shape up over the coming period, so this is at most a pre-announcement rather than a kick off.
The initial terms of reference though give plenty of scope for investigation, including “key principles for consumer protection and how these are underpinned by regulation, open information and good practice; a broader approach to whistle blowing covering both consumer and competition policy; consumer co-operatives and the scope for collective action, including redress when things go wrong; the role of consumer advocacy and advice; competition and diversity in markets; and the culture of business, including incentives (such as commission based pay structures), the role of corporate governance and the role of auditors.”