Consumer Focus Wales

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion 4:30 pm, 14th September 2011

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point; he pre-empts the second half of my speech. The central message on which I agree with him is the need to secure a holistic body of information, with those isolated cases with which we as constituency MPs often deal put into the much broader context. That has been the great strength of Consumer Focus, and Consumer Focus Wales.

I wanted to set out the work that Consumer Focus Wales has done, because I do not want anyone to be under the illusion that it is not a relevant or useful body. I certainly do not believe that the Government take the view that the work done by Consumer Focus is not valuable; the Minister has said that that is not the case in our discussions. The organisation’s work is recognised, because the Government propose to transfer its functions into another, albeit in my view inadequate, model. The Government’s intention to reduce the cost is understandable, and I sincerely hope that they are able to deliver a service for consumers at a lower cost, but these functions are vital—they make a real difference to people’s lives.

The Government are now consulting on their approach to consumers, while the legislation that will allow them to abolish Consumer Focus makes its way through the Commons—Susan Elan Jones, who is here, will recollect yesterday’s brief discussion in the Public Bodies Bill Committee on the role of Consumer Focus. The consultation had not, however, even been launched when the Bill was heard in the House of Lords some months ago. That certainly is not the ideal approach, though it is arguably necessitated by the difficult timetable and the need to make savings. Nevertheless, it inevitably has created a sense of uncertainty.

The real concern that Consumer Focus Wales has is about the model proposed by the Government. There are few organisations that I have praised more often in this House than Citizens Advice. It performs excellent advocacy right across Wales and the United Kingdom, but it does not have—currently, at least—a great deal of expertise in detailed policy research, certainly outside of benefits, personal finance and housing. It has done some admirable work, and as a constituency MP I have referred cases to it on such matters, and it has referred cases back to me. What were formerly my two bureaux in Aberystwyth and Cardigan, now merged into one Ceredigion bureau, have done some excellent work.