Prime Minister May Must Restore Trust to Deliver a Better Deal for Consumers

18/07/2016 15:57

Recent research from Which? has highlighted peoples' fears over the economy. More than half of households expect it to get worse over the next 12 months, that's more than double a year ago.

So it's clear one of the many jobs our new Prime Minister has to do is to help build consumer confidence and restore trust in key markets, like energy, banking and rail, if we're to have a strong economy.

Will Theresa May be a pro-consumer Prime Minister? Well as Home Secretary she rarely strayed outside her brief but indications are promising. In her leadership speech at the start of this week she committed to tackling the governance of big businesses and announced plans to put consumers on company boards.

Her pledge to 'use and reform competition law so that markets work better for people' attracted less media attention but included a notable promise to address highly consolidated markets, such as utilities and retail banking.

This is a welcome commitment, given that our research also found that people's trust in industries to act in their best interest has also declined by an average of 12% over the last year. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Which? champion, the Conservative Deputy Chair and MP for Harlow, Rob Halfon, claims that May will be an advocate of a more socially responsible capitalism.

Halfon has determinedly pursued energy companies and petrol price hikes and sees our new PM as someone who will take on so-called 'crony capitalism', something also echoed in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday.

Back in 2013, Theresa May pointed to this in her speech to a ConservativeHome conference. I remember at the time being struck by her commitment to tackle vested interests wherever they're found.

In the speech, she called for action to tackle the 'appalling absence of care at Mid-Staffordshire hospital' and 'the treatment of elderly people at care homes like Winterbourne View' - something that Which? has sought to address through our Make Complaints Count campaign.

And she also said that the Government should tackle businesses who 'abuse their market position to keep prices high' and 'companies at the less scrupulous end of the credit industry (that) prey on the poorest and most vulnerable families'. With Which? research revealing recently that unarranged overdrafts can cost you even more than a payday loan, perhaps our new Prime Minister will back action to tackle punitive bank charges.

So there is good cause to hope that consumer issues will be a key part of a May premiership. They'll certainly need to be central to her biggest challenge - negotiating Britain's exit from the EU.

It's vital that Brexit delivers for all consumers. This means ensuring that important rights and benefits, such as cheaper data roaming in other countries, compensation arrangements for flight delays and protecting food safety, are maintained during the negotiations - but also that as we gain new freedoms from EU laws, consumers reap the benefits.

It is also important that Theresa May recognises that a pro-consumer agenda will be a pro-growth agenda. We've seen big drops in consumer trust in essential markets, such as rail, energy and banking. That's why reforms to these important sectors cannot be put on hold as we work out our future relationship with Brussels.

The new Prime Minister has a great opportunity to put consumers right at the heart of her agenda. This is a big ask. But if she can live up to her recent rhetoric, then we can have confidence that empowering and protecting consumers will be a pivotal part of our new Prime Minister's plans.