Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-42)



Mr Eric Joyce

  40. I understand you have either done or are doing a survey of consumer awareness of rights, I am sorry, I am not sure if you have finished it or you are still doing it, but is there a view emerging, or is there an established view on the state of consumer knowledge?
  (Mr Evans) The fieldwork has been completed. The first report is actually going to our Council a week on Friday, which does not actually have any policy conclusions in it at the moment. It is setting out what consumers' knowledge of their rights is. And what we have reported to Council I can report to you is, we are very pleased with the level of consumers' knowledge of their rights in Scotland; it is high. We were worried, there was some evidence that it might have been lower in Scotland than it might have been elsewhere in the United Kingdom, that is from our evidence and it is quite robust; that is not the case. In fact, there is some evidence that your better-off consumers actually have expectations about their rights which are in excess of the legal rights, which I think is healthy, that is a demanding, confident consumer. What we have also found though, of course, is, those who have the least knowledge of their rights are those who are most disadvantaged in society. So if you have a low educational qualification, or you have none, or you are over a certain age, over about 70, or so, there is a whole range of reasons which are consistent with issues of deprivation, you have the least knowledge of your rights there. Now that is a very important finding for us. You also have, from the evidence, the least access to redress organisations, you have least knowledge about them and access to them. So we have got to be very careful, when we use our findings in policy, to make sure that we do not just jump on a consumer education bandwagon, because I think that was a simple answer, but a lot of those people will not be those who you could simply ask to read material, or absorb their knowledge. And so I think the policy conclusions, which we will work up after our research is approved by our Council, and we will deliver some time in February, will be very important for us on that area. But I am pleased to say, we were worried that there was some indication that consumers in Scotland had less knowledge. The one thing that we do find is that they think they have fewer problems. If they have a problem, they are equally as likely to complain about it, but in terms of the UK averages, they think they have fewer consumer problems now. This is a struggle for us, because do we say we have better goods and services in Scotland, on that evidence, or do we say, for some reason, consumers are less likely to think they have got a problem? So we are struggling with that analysis and working with MORI, who did the work with us, to say, what can we legitimately conclude, and I think we will probably have to leave that rather mute until some further research is done. But, I think, a very important conclusion aspect, and the only really significant UK differential.
  (Mr Millar) I think, Chairman, it gives us an opportunity, as we analyse it and think it through next week, it will come out in February, to say, well, rather than trying to address the consumer education up front, because everyone says, "Just educate the consumer," that is much more easily said and not easily done. But there are other areas we work on, in terms of influencing the curriculum in education, certainly at late primary school and secondary education, where if our children start to understand their rights and how they can articulate them then the children in deprived communities, where their parents have low incomes and maybe, educationally, have not been able to get to the standards that others have been able to get to, often the children are a wonderful vehicle, to draw to their attention the rights that they do have, because children catch on very quickly. And we found that in food safety aspects, etc., where you educate parents through children. So some of the conclusions that we come to might, in the ways forward, roll that in. But, obviously, these documents will be available to you, as soon as they come out and we will make sure that the database is comprehensive so you get them; you will have to read them, but you will get them.

Ann McKechin

  41. We note that you are currently researching the experience of direct payments, and you have indicated that, by and large, it involves a vulnerable group of service users. What information about direct payments has your current research suggested, or any conclusions made from it?
  (Mr Evans) We have not, because what we have done in the past is, about four years ago, we looked at direct payments and found a huge variety in what direct payments were asked and what we thought were value for money. And there has been a process by which the Executive has gone through, where they asked COSLA, the association of local authorities in Scotland, to give advice to local authorities; we were not included in that process of giving advice to local authorities. So what we are now going to go back and say is, how effective has that advice been, how clear are the users of services about what the costs are and what they are for, and are they related clearly to what is being provided. Now I was actually having a discussion on Monday about how far we are down that line. Our workplan is for the year, and we are just in the beginning of starting that, so when we have completed it I will be delighted and I will ensure that you get a copy.


  42. Can I thank you very much for your attendance this morning, and for your very full and frank answers to us. Can I just correct something I said at the beginning. The uncorrected transcript is now unlikely to appear on the Net before next Tuesday, and this is due to pressure of work at the production end. But thank you again, and I apologise for fewer Members than normal at the Committee this morning, but being a Member of Parliament often means that you are required to do two things at one time, and this morning we have had two debates in Westminster Hall, both led by members of this Committee, in which others have been taking part. So I do apologise for that, but it is just the nature of the beast. Once again, thank you very much for your attendance.
  (Mr Millar) Chairman, if I can just say, on behalf of the Scottish Consumer Council, it is a wonderful opportunity and it is one which we should maybe try to take up more often; but certainly we will keep up, in terms of the membership of this Committee, on an individual basis, contacts as we go forward, because the point was well made and we recognise that there are still some issues about being able to try to find the resources to connect with Members in Westminster, never mind us maybe connecting also with our MEPs within the European Parliament environment. But thank you very much for the opportunity, it has been very interesting for us, and we will go away and group ourselves somewhere else and say we should have been saying something different, but never mind. Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Millar.

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