The creation of a watchdog to represent the interests of Scotland's consumers is a step closer following the publication of a bill detailing how the body would be structured.
The Consumer Protection Bill is the first step in establishing a new organisation of advocacy and advice called Consumer Scotland which the Scottish Government says will work to generate improved service, greater value for money and better buying choices for shoppers north of the border.
The Bill, which lays out how the new body would be created, states that a member will be appointed by the Scottish Ministers to chair Consumer Scotland, while between two and four other members will also appointed by the government.
Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at consumer watchdog Which?, said: “Scottish consumers have told us about their deep concerns in many areas, from diminishing day-to-day banking services to patchy telecoms connections, and our research has exposed the impact these issues have had on trust in these essential industries.
“The move to create a dedicated consumer body backed by the Scottish Government to tackle these chronic issues is very positive. By putting a duty on public bodies to prioritise consumer interests, as well as providing adequate funding, the Scottish Government can ensure Consumer Scotland can play a crucial role in improving the lives of ordinary people.”
Business minister Jamie Hepburn said: “This is an important milestone in our work to make sure that a fairer Scotland means fairer outcomes for consumers. Consumer Scotland will be a dedicated champion for everyone across Scotland, focused on investigating consumer harm and developing solutions to tackle it.
“This kind of champion is needed more than ever. Between rising costs and reduced access to services like local banks, consumers need a strong voice to speak for them, and to bring public, third sector and private organisations together to find practical answers to these problems.
“Consumer Scotland will ensure Scotland is a place where voices are listened to and can make change happen.”
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said it was looking forward to working with the new body.
Chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice Network in Scotland helps and advocates for hundreds of thousands of people each year.
“We look forward to engaging with the process around establishing this new body, using the experience of our network across the country to ensure the best outcomes for consumers.”
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Scottish retailers believe open markets – with maximum choice and competition - and consumer protection are inextricably linked and that empowered consumers can drive up standards in consumer facing businesses and services. The creation of a Scottish consumer body to cover the devolved elements of competition and consumer policy can help to offer the best form of protection for consumers real interests.
“We would note this is a policy area which has been developed at a UK, and indeed European level in recent years. Consequently, whilst a distinctly Scottish approach to advocacy and advice will be valuable, it’s important policy is considered in light of that wider approach and aligned to prevent unnecessary and expensive divergence which could drive up costs without aiding customers."
He added: “It’s also positive to see the Scottish Government recognise the need to consider the impact of its own policy-making upon consumers. In recent years Government policy has explicitly looked to change the costs and availability of certain products in order to drive social policy, particularly in public health and environmental matters. Those measures must be considered on their individual merits, but considering the impact on the consumer as a test is a very sensible means of delivering well-evidenced and proportionate policy making.”