09th Jan 2024

Off The Fence: In 2024 we need to make the consumer king again.

Life seems so much more complicated than it used to. We have lived through a global pandemic. We’ve seen the impact war in Ukraine has had on food and fuel prices. We feel more connected to events around the globe. Consequently, we feel more vulnerable too.

We may feel there is little we can do to protect ourselves and our families from these shocks. We know it is going to be a year of geo-political upheaval, with critical elections in the US, China and many other places. With war still raging in Europe and the situation in Gaza which has the potential to escalate further. With technological change moving at lightning pace, it can feel dizzying. The jigsaw pieces of our nation have been thrown up in the air. We are painstakingly putting them back together.

At home too, life has become more complicated. We are having to access healthcare in new and different ways. Many people feel things don’t work any more, at least for them. Some have felt economic shocks for the first time. Consumers feel they have less power, sometimes it is harder to change contracts, or even make a complaint, or return goods, especially if you’ve bought them online. This is in part because we have had the rise of new monopolies: like water companies or online giants, which escape our usual ways of ensuring choice and opportunity for our citizens.

The customer feels they are no longer the boss. They are not turning to the state, politicians or the regulator as their champion.

Fair Fuel, 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’, that some parts of the private sector impose. Higher insurance, prepayment meters, high cost credit and paying to get access to cash. They see it in the public sector upon which they depend. They can’t choose a school or a GP.

My campaign focus in 2024 for the people of Portsmouth is to improve the quality, accountability and accessibility of healthcare, to make the consumer King again and reward those who take responsibility by enabling people and businesses to be able to keep more of what they earn. In short, to fix what doesn’t work for people.

Increasing the power individuals have and their agency is key to all of these objectives. People get frustrated at politics because they have answers. They want to help. They want to step up and take responsibility, but feel frustrated at every turn.

Business taxes are preventing people from trading. Innovative businesses are slowed down by the inability of regulation to keep pace. Sometimes Government departments take too long to decide even who should be doing the regulating. Many households have no choice in who they purchase certain services from, or have a mammoth fight on their hands if they want to change provider.

Much good has been done under previous administrations in these areas, from raising personal tax thresholds, to school reforms resulting in meaningful improvements in standards, to strengthening consumer power, – bank portability for example and new legislation to help strengthen competition has been introduced. We should make use of it

Whether we are talking about the public or private sectors in 2024 we need to make the consumers of goods and services king again. That requires a genuine choice and the ability to make it.

That means more power to the people.