24th Jan 2023

Freedom and fairness should be at the heart of all we do.

Technological change, geopolitical events and Covid threw the jigsaw pieces of our nation up in the air. We are painstakingly putting them back together. The picture has changed.

Many people feel things don’t work any more, at least for them.

Some are feeling economic shocks for the first time.

Consumers feel they have less power, sometimes it is harder to change contracts, or even make a complaint.

We have the rise of new monopolies energy and water companies and the online giants. These firms escape our usual ways of ensuring choice opportunities for our citizens,

The customer feels they are no longer the boss. They are not turning to the regulator as their champion. Fairfuel, Which? and Martin Lewis are their preferred protectors.

For those with the least, the whole system can seem rigged against them.

They see it in the so-called ‘poverty premium’ as the Centre for Social Justice has termed it, that some parts of the private sector impose. Higher insurance, prepayment metres, high-cost credit and paying to get access to cash.

They see it in the public sector upon which they depend. When they can’t choose a school or a GP.

Much good has been done under previous administrations in these areas. We’ve raised personal tax thresholds, doubling them since 2010. We have brought in education reforms resulting in meaningful improvements in standards. We have 10% more good or outstanding schools. We have brought in new laws to protect the consumer – bank portability for example. We need to continue and speed up giving people real clout and say over their lives.

Three issues very much at the fore in my in-tray illustrate this. The first is people being pushed onto prepayment metres, and government support for households not being passed onto the customer by these companies. I am glad the government is focussing in on this and the regulator Ofgem is scrutinising companies that have been moving large numbers of people onto metres. Portsmouth magistrates court has issued the most warrants of anywhere in the UK to force people onto these meters. Although these cover an area much wider than our city it is very concerning.

The second issue is healthcare. You’ll hear people talk a lot about being ‘patient-centred’. What could be more important than being able to choose your GP and where you are treated? That is not what the Integrated Care Board has been doing in regard to North Harbour’s closure. They should, which is why I am conducting a survey with the help of The News to ensure we have a clear view of what people would like, as opposed to the least-worst option for them.

Thirdly poor customer service people have experienced with companies like EVRI. I’m not a customer but I checked out their website. There is no route to make a complaint. The very unhelpful chatbot will only engage with you if you wish to report the delivery van has driven into your home or car and destroyed it. No way to track, or report a missing parcel, or report damaged goods.

Focus on what people want and good customer service matters. As does choice. When people have choice and freedom- whatever sector it is – in standards, service and quality improve. Fairness improves. Those things are valued by the public, and they are the values of our country.