SACOT MINUTES OF
THE 82nd MEETING HELD ON TUESDAY 14 JANUARY 2003 AT 28 THISTLE
Jeremy Mitchell (Chair)
Barry Stevens MBE
George Halford (Secretary)
1. OPENING REMARKS AND APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
1.1 The Chair opened the 82nd meeting by
welcoming members to the first meeting of 2003.
1.2 Apologies had been received from Mark
Hagger, Wendy Reynolds and Peter Wilson.
2. MINUTES OF THE 81st MEETING HELD ON 19
2.1 These were approved.
3. MATTERS ARISING FROM THE 81st MEETING
· 3.1 Project Allocation
3.1 Kenneth Murray and Barry Stevens both
reported communications from Project Managers and the Secretary
was asked to check on whether the intervention of Ray Thornton,
after the November meeting, had resulted in any contact with
· 3.3 SCC Parliamentary Reception
3.2 The Chair, Secretary, Mark Hagger, Kenneth
Murray, Alastair Robertson and Peter Wilson had attended. It
was agreed that it had proved a useful event for facilitating
networking with other consumer organisations but relatively
few MSPs were present so the
opportunity to lobby them on telecommunications issues was very
limited. The Chair had written to SCC to express our appreciation
for their organisation of this event.
4. REPORTS FROM CHAIR AND MEMBERS
i. Chair's Report
· Goethe Institute Conference 22
4.1 The Chair had attended this conference which examined federalism
in the EU, Germany and the UK.
· Voice of the Listener and Viewer
(VLV) Scotland Forum on the Communications Bill 25 November
4.2 The Chair had participated in this event. Attendance had
been limited and the business was largely taken up with the
drafting of a letter for VLV Scotland to send to the First Minister.
· Telecoms Ombudsman Service (TOS)
Council 26 November, 10 December, 7 January
4.3 The Chair reported good progress with the formal opening
for business having occurred on schedule at the start of January.
No immediate flood of cases for investigation had occurred,
because of the time limits involved, and it was anticipated
that the workload would build steadily. Some publicity had been
generated by the opening and one additional new member had been
admitted - 'Thus' from Scotland. Barry Stevens wished to know
whether complaints originating from before 1st January could
be registered and the Chair undertook to clarify this point.
· Telecoms Advisory Panel (TAP) Meeting,
28 November, 11 December
4.4 Both meetings were largely concerned with the Communications
Bill with the second also preparing for a following meeting
with the chair of OFCOM, Lord Currie.
· VLV Conference 2 December
4.5 The Chair had been a speaker at this conference in London
that was also addressed by peers from each of the main political
parties. Attendees had been largely consumer representatives
and those with an interest in broadcasting. Although the main
focus had tended to be on broadcasting aspects the Chair had
been able focus the meeting on telecommunications aspects. The
event had been useful as it allowed the Chair to maintain/build
links with the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour spokespersons
in the House of Lords. The main point emerging from the conference
was a deep concern about the de-regulatory aspects and the effects
that these would have on the quality and range of programming.
· TAP Meeting with Lord Currie 11
4.6 A note of this meeting had been circulated. Members noticed
the opposition from the Chair of CCE to national consumer panel
committees but the (SACOT) Chair highlighted the positive proposals
that the Chair of OFCOM was making to try to ensure effective
consumer representation and liaison with the devolved administrations.
· BT Meeting with Sandy Walkington
4.7 The Chair and Secretary had been invited to meet Sandy Walkington,
Head of Public Affairs for BT in the UK. There had been a useful
exchange of views on matters of concern to each party in the
Communications Bill. The Chair was pleased to learn that BT
strongly supported the principle of an effective Consumer Panel
and was interested to learn of BT's concerns over the inclusion
of 'apparatus' and on the appeals procedure.
· CWU Broadband Dinner 12 December
4.8 The Chair attended this dinner at which the Minister reviewed
the strategy and progress of broadband rollout. The topic was
intensively discussed to try to get a consensus of what needed
to be done but, as the Inverness seminar had revealed, there
was no single perfect solution available and a range of initiatives
would need to be pursued simultaneously.
· CMA Meeting 13 December
4.9 The Chair and Secretary had had one of their regular meetings
with CMA (Scotland) representatives. This was primarily focused
on the Communications Bill and SACOT's activities so far, the
expected timetable for the Bill and what SACOT proposed to do
during the remaining progress of the Bill. It was suggested
that CMA should lobby parliamentarians directly if they felt
there were improvements to the Bill that they wished to see
4.10 The Chair and Secretary would be attending
one of their regular meetings with the Director, BT Scotland,
in February and if Members had any topics that they wished to
have raised they should communicate these to the Secretary.
The two items that SACOT would raise would be the Communications
Bill and service standards in Scotland.
ii. Members' Reports
· Financial Services Authority -
4.11 Alastair Robertson reported that there had been no further
meetings of this group since the last SACOT meeting.
· Communications for Business (CfB)
4.12 Alastair Robertson reported that the Committee for Business
had met and considered the forthcoming change from license conditions
to general conditions of entitlement. There was concern whether
some operators, and more especially consumers, were aware of
the implications of the change. The Chair asked whether CfB
had asked quizzed Oftel on what the policing/monitoring arrangements
would be and Alastair Robertson stated that CfB would be writing
to the Director General on this aspect. CfB had also considered
the web filtering and monitoring arrangements that were increasingly
prevalent in the business sector and the need to safeguard those
employees that accessed inappropriate sites entirely inadvertently.
Barry Stevens highlighted that very often automatic advertisements
('pinging' screens) for other services/sites would be prompted
by access to a 'trigger' site and that these are recorded even
though the recipient would very probably have no interest in
their content. Alastair Robertson said that he would raise this
when the subject was discussed at the next CfB meeting. Alastair
Robertson also reported that one Scottish based company had
complained about the costs of attending Oftel meetings that
were always held in London. On dispute resolution procedures,
concern had been expressed that these could favour large service
providers as they were in a stronger position if they protracted
the process by referring the proposed resolution back to Oftel.
· Directory Enquiries Consumer Group
4.13 Alastair Robertson reported that the new services were
available to the public and had received widespread publicity.
The Consumer Group would monitor developments but their main
interest was the wider scope of services that would become available
in the future with possible purchasing of goods and services
that would be paid for by applying a charge to the telephone
bill. The Group was concerned that there should be adequate
safeguards to ensure that the purchaser was the telephone account
holder or had the authority to incur charges on the account.
Alastair Robertson was concerned that consumer concerns were
taken account of before commercial operators made too much progress.
The Chair observed that this aspect had been of concern to both
SACOT and CfB for some considerable time and suggested that
he should raise it formally with Oftel. The Committee agreed
this approach and added their concerns about reverse searching
(accessing addresses via telephone numbers) and by-passing call
bars on premium rate services through connection from a directory
· Consumer Forum on Communications
4.14 Peter Wilson had reported, when presenting his apologies
for absence, that there had been no further meetings since the
November SACOT meeting.
· EU Directives Policy Group
4.15 Alastair Robertson had attended a meeting of this group.
It now looked likely that the market review consultation documents
would not be issued before February. Alastair Robertson also
reported that Courtenay Thompson, Chair of NIACT, had raised
an interesting point about licensing arrangements preventing
the sharing of masts that NIACT was pursuing. The Committee
briefly discussed roaming arrangements and the Chair undertook
to discuss these topics with the NIACT Chair to see whether
SACOT should support NIACT's views. The Secretary mentioned
that it had been suggested that Oftel would wish to make presentations
to ACTs about ACT input to the market review consultations and
he had approached Oftel in relation to this meeting. However,
they were not yet ready to undertake such presentations but
would be for the March meeting. The Committee agreed to put
the topic on the agenda for the March meeting and asked the
Secretary to make arrangements with Oftel for a representative
· Comparable Performance Indicators
4.16 Chris Griffith and Alastair Robertson reported that they
had attended a meeting convened by Oftel on this topic. Although
there had been a low attendance they had found the session of
interest as there was an acceptance that current CPIs were not
meeting consumer needs and there was possibly a need to 're-brand
and re-profile' the data which is currently available. The Committee
discussed the difficulties for consumers in comparing like for
like and then having to investigate pricing comparisons separately.
It was suggested that links could be improved and that an analysis
of site 'hits' might be of some use.
5. SECRETARY'S REPORT
· Scottish Retail Consortium Parliamentary
Reception 8 January
5.1 The Secretary had attended this event at which the Consortium
launched their manifesto and the Minister had spoken. The main
interest to SACOT was that the Secretary had discussed telecommunications
issues with a number of MSPs one of whom had asked to be added
to our circulation list (Alex Fergusson MSP).
5.2 Otherwise Members would be interested
to know that the next meeting of ACT Secretaries would be hosted
in Edinburgh on 24 January. One topic would be Oftel's response
to the suggestion that the Oftel Forum should meet outside London.
5.3 Members were reminded to submit travel
and allowance claim forms promptly as we neared the end of the
Topics for discussion
6. COMPLAINTS STATISTICS
6.1 The Committee then considered the latest
set of complaints statistics provided by Alistair Cox of CRS,
Oftel. Members noted these with interest but noted that some
data from the 4th quarter of 2002 was not yet available. The
Chair highlighted the significant numbers of complaints during
2002 about the standards of repair service, a topic that he
would be raising at his next meeting with Bob Downes of BT Scotland.
The Secretary highlighted the useful appendix which detailed
significant issues, however, while it was of interest to note
that CRS had met with two service providers to discuss complaints
and complaints handling, there was no information as to what
had happened at these meetings, what conclusions had been reached
and what actions, if any, agreed. The Secretary was asked to
write to Alistair Cox to thank him for the enhancements and
to enquire about the outcome of the meetings.
6.2 The appreciative e-mail from a Mr Peacock
who was concerned about BT's Customer Service Guarantee Scheme
and repair delays had been noted by the Committee. He had endorsed
SACOT's efforts to obtain meaningful complaints statistics.
7. COMMUNICATIONS BILL
7.1 Members had been issued with copies
of the Communications Bill which was currently undergoing its
House of Commons Committee stage. Seven sittings had been held
between 10 and 19 December and the Committee resumed sittings
on 7 January. Progress was relatively rapid and no amendments
had yet been conceded. It was clear that, given the pre-legislative
scrutiny, it was intended to limit change to the minimum. The
Chair, however, considered that this would be more difficult
to achieve at the Lords stage and, therefore, lobbying efforts
to attract support to amendments from consumer groups would
be focused on peers. Otherwise, there would probably only be
an injection of 'tidying' amendments from the Government.
7.2 For those aspects of the Bill that ACTs had wanted to see
changed the following is the current situation:-
· That OFCOM's primary duty should relate to consumers
- not achieved but duties redrafted from 7 to 4;
· Terminology muddled and needed to focus more on consumer
- dealt with;
· Consumer Panel - now in Part 1 but remit still unclear;
· Issues that the Consumer Panel may consider no longer
to be defined by OFCOM;
· Appointment of Consumer Panel Members by Ministers
rather than OFCOM - not achieved;
· Power for Consumer Panel to set up committees - achieved;
· OFCOM may not withhold information from the Panel without
reasons - not achieved; and
· Consumer Panel required to set up national committees
- not achieved.
8.1 The Chair reported that when the TAP
had met the Chair of OFCOM, Lord Currie, he had been impressed
by his willingness to listen. In order to achieve a lean organisation
it seemed likely that self-regulatory systems would be encouraged
wherever possible and that some work may be contracted out.
Lord Currie was anxious to establish Advisory Committees for
each of the home nations, irrespective of the outcome of the
push for national committees of the Consumer Panel to be statutorily
required. If not statutorily required he considered that the
decision on whether to establish national committees of the
Consumer Panel would be a matter for the Chair of the Consumer
Panel. Lord Currie expected that the statutorily required Scottish
members of the Consumer Panel and Content Board would be members
of a Scottish Advisory Committee that would report to the main
OFCOM Board. Lord Currie appreciated that it was important that
this group should not be dominated by industry representatives
and he was anxious to achieve arrangements which would ensure
consumer concerns could be effectively communicated to OFCOM.
8.2 The Chair explained that the consequences of the uncertainty
over whether there will be statutory committees of the Consumer
Panel for each home nation would prevent OFCOM preparing for
their establishment in advance. This, in turn, meant there was
likely to be a hiatus between the demise of Oftel and Consumer
Panel arrangements in Scotland. However, there was a clause
in the Bill which allowed Ministers to determine the date for
closure of the ACTs on a different date from that for Oftel
so it might be that ACTs would continue for a period after OFCOM
came into existence until the Consumer Panel arrangements could
take over. Barry Stevens observed that as SACOT member appointments
expired in April 2004 that might be the furthest date.
8.3 The Secretary observed that there was
a statutory requirement to maintain an OFCOM office in each
home nation and that this should act as a reasonable safeguard
for any non-statutory committee as there would be minimal financial
savings to be achieved from its demise.
8.4 Barry Stevens reported that he had met
with both his MP and MSP both of whom appeared anxious to support
adequate consumer representation for Scotland. The MSP wished
to be added to SACOT's circulation list.
Consultation document responses for formal endorsement
9. Oftel Statement (S089/2002): "Price
DTI Consultation Document (S098/2002): "Implementing
9.1 The Committee approved these responses.
Consultation documents for discussion
10. Oftel Consultation Document (S123/2002):
"Local Loop Unbundling: Co-mingling, Partitioning at BT
10.1 The Chair had considered this document
and decided that SACOT need not respond.
Oftel Consultation Document (S126/2002):
"Removing Barriers for User Representatives in Regulatory
and Co-regulatory Initiatives"
10.2 The Chair felt that this was a welcome
and informative policy that would aid Oftel in achieving more
effective consultation but it was a pity that it had not been
developed previously. Although ACTs were mentioned as consumer
representative organisations he felt that it would be useful
to include others with brief statements of their attributes.
Alastair Robertson suggested that this might include their support
arrangements. Barry Stevens was anxious that the principles
should not be lost sight of in the transition to OFCOM and would
be carried forward. The Chair thanked Members for their observations,
which he would incorporate into the response.
Oftel Consultation Document (S127/2002):
"Draft Oftel Management Plan 2003-04"
10.3 The Chair commented that he felt that
this document generally reflected Oftel's bias at always looking
at competition from the supply side rather from the point of
view of the consumer. There appeared to be an underlying assumption
that where there was effective competition there was no need
for consumer protection arrangements. The Chair's view was that
competitive markets were inherently unstable where the participants
vied to achieve advantages for their own concerns and to disadvantage
their competitors and there was thus always the potential for
consumers to be adversely affected. There was also an assumption
of consumer knowledge that was patently weak when it came to
comparing prices and the quality of service from telcos. The
Committee discussed Oftel's role in promoting broadband rollout
and it was agreed that this needed to be less passive and that
Oftel should act as a catalyst in bringing together appropriate
organisations. Alastair Robertson felt that consideration now
needed to be given to the segment of the population and business
that would otherwise be left with no alternative to narrowband
unless resources were applied. The Chair thanked Members for
their contributions and asked if they had any further thoughts
to communicate with him in order that they could be included
in the response.
Documents for noting
Scottish Executive: "Connecting Scotland
- Making it Happen"
10.4 Members said that they had found this
11. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
11.1 Barry Stevens reported that he found
the BT barometers of registered interest in broadband by exchange
11.2 Kenneth Murray was concerned that BT should raise the limit
on 'Anytime' to eliminate the automatic disconnection after
2 hours (out of a 150 hours a mont entitlement). The Chair undertook
to raise this with BT at his next meeting with them.
11.3 The Chair was unable to attend the
NIACT Conference in March but if any Members wished to take
his place they should inform the Secretary who would make appropriate
11.4 The Chair intended to draft SACOT's Annual Report and make
arrangements to have it printed locally to ensure its prompt
availability at this important time for promoting Scottish consumer
protection interests. As soon as the draft was available it
would be distributed to the Committee for comment.
11.5 The Secretary highlighted the recent
advertisement for Council Members for the Scottish Consumer
12. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
13.1 Tuesday 18th March, 2003 in Edinburgh
at 10.30 a.m. The Chair explained that he now had another commitment
for the original date and the Committee agreed the changed date.
The meeting would probably include a representative from Oftel
to discuss ACT input to market reviews.