The Government is trying to give the impression it is doing something for the consumer while probably doing little. It is a smokescreen and one must wonder whether this strategy will work. We have had a series of what now appear to be failed State agencies and State appointments to protect the power of the consumer. An example is the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs. That body is now apparently irrelevant and will be subsumed, along with its director, into the new agency. This indicates that this office was a busted flush. It did not work and we all know that to be the case. The simple reason is that it did not have any powers.
The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs found fault with many of the banks. Ms Carmel Foley is a wonderful woman who did a great job but when she found the banks had broken the law, she could do nothing about it. Those whom she found guilty of committing offences could not be prosecuted by her in the courts.
The Government could not put up with this any longer so it set up another quango.
What are these Government agencies doing? They give an impression to the public that they are curtailing the worst excesses of business. I contend, however, that the worst excesses of the business world are flourishing unchecked by Government agencies and Government measures. Nor will they be checked or hindered in any way by an agency of the type now proposed. We have ombudsmen galore, such as those overseeing the insurance industry and the credit institutions. They make not even a dent on behalf of the consumer because big business still dominates. These types of fig leaf measures will do nothing except give an impression that some action is being taken.
I would like to see this particular agency immediately set about tackling specific problems rather than general awareness. It should not be a case of distributing information to the public about consumer issues. That will not work but will merely take the responsibility from the agency which can claim it put all this information into the public arena. This does not guarantee that anybody is listening. The agency should come out and say, for example, that auctioneers’ guide prices are unacceptable and the Government should respond to this immediately. No agency ever seems to do that.
It is dangerous for the Government to set up agencies of this type to give the impression of action without giving them any teeth. This will be yet another piece of window-dressing which will have virtually no effect on behalf of the consumer.