SACOT MINUTES OF
THE 87th MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 28th OCTOBER 2003 AT 28 THISTLE
Jeremy Mitchell (Chairman)
Barry Stevens MBE
Peter Wilson (Consultant)
George Halford (SACOT Secretary)
Jan Edwards (SACOT Assistant Secretary)
1. OPENING REMARKS AND APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
1.1 The Chairman welcomed Members to the
87th and penultimate meeting.
1.2 Julia Clarke, Consumers' Association,
had been invited to attend but had sent her apologies for absence
due to another commitment.
2. MINUTES OF THE 86th MEETING HELD ON 2nd SEPTEMBER 2003
2.1 The minutes were approved.
3. MATTERS ARISING FROM THE 86th MEETING
EU Directive Stakeholder Group
3.1 Alastair Robertson reported that he had attempted to register
in order to access and comment on the draft EU Directive but
had not succeeded. He suggested that the topic be marked for
the incoming Consumer Panel to monitor and this was agreed.
3.2 The Secretary reported that he had yet to remind Alastair
Cox of the Committee's request for more qualitative information
on what follow-up action had been undertaken by CRS as a result
Any Other Business
3.3 The Chairman apologised to Kenneth Murray that he had yet
to write to the BBC in regard to the restriction to digital
viewing that was applied during certain televised events.
4. REPORTS FROM CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS
i. Chairman's Report
Council, 9 September, 7 October
4.1 The Chairman reported that the Telecommunications Ombudsman
Service scheme had applied to Oftel for formal approval under
the terms of the Communications Act and had been accepted. Funding
had been secured for the service through to the end of 2004.
Utilities Committee, 24 September
4.2 The Chairman had briefed the Committee on the implications
of the Communications Act and the position in Scotland. Considerable
anxiety had been expressed over the effectiveness of Ofcom's
arrangements for supporting the national advisory committee.
Meeting, 15 October
4.3 The minutes of the TAP meeting prior to the meeting with
the Director General had been circulated to Members. The meeting
with the Director General had included a lively discussion on
the effectiveness of the new directory enquiry arrangements.
It was the view of the Chairmen that the new arrangements had
resulted in consumers paying more for a worse service but the
Director General maintained that it was possible for consumers
to pay less than previously. The final TAP meeting would be
hosted by SACOT on 24 November.
of Letters with the Comptroller and Auditor General
4.4 Members had received copies of the correspondence and the
Chairman suggested that the terms of the reply were not satisfactory
and he suggested responding. After discussion the Committee
agreed that the Chairman should respond explaining why NAO should
have consulted ACTs and made their report more easily accessible
to the majority of consumers.
4.5 The Chairman reviewed future engagements
with Voice of the Listener and Viewer conferences in London
on 27 November and Edinburgh on 3 December. Any Members that
were available for the latter meeting should contact the Secretariat
who would arrange their attendance. A SCC Chairman's Group was
scheduled for 3 November (Secretary's Note: now postponed).
ii Members' Reports
Services Authority - e-Commerce Committee
4.6 Alastair Robertson reported that there had been no recent
meetings and none were scheduled before SACOT's closure. It
was agreed to delete this standing item from the agenda.
Committee for Business
4.7 Alastair Robertson reported that he had attended the final
meeting of this committee in Wales. They had considered the
importance of encouraging new buildings to be wired for internet
access to avoid the expense of retrospective fitting. A consultation
document had been issued from the office of the Deputy Prime
Minister on this topic but it had not included either Oftel
or ACTs in the extensive list of organisations from whom comments
were invited. Otherwise the Chairman was preparing a list of
topics for consideration by their successors under Ofcom arrangements.
Enquiries Consumer Group
4.8 This topic would be covered under item 9 on the agenda.
Forum on Communications
4.9 Peter Wilson reported that he had attended no meetings since
the last SACOT meeting and that the next meeting had clashed
with today's meeting. Other than a presentation by the telecoms
ombudsman, Elizabeth France, there were no significant items
on the agenda. This was of concern since he had proposed that
the forthcoming review of the BBC Charter was of key significance.
His suggestion appeared to have been ignored despite a reminder.
The Chairman expressed his surprise that the Committee was not
discussing how the Ofcom Consumer Panel would operate and its
relationship to CFC.
4.10 Alastair Robertson reported that he
would attend a forthcoming meeting on Directory Enquiries on
5 November and Kenny Murray confirmed he would attend WACT's
presentation of the results of its mobile coverage research
on 14 November.
5. SECRETARY'S REPORT
Seminar, London, 4 September
5.1 The Secretary had attended this seminar which met every
few years to consider consumer representation amongst utility
industries. Several useful speakers reviewed experiences in
their sectors and the Secretary had made several statements
relating to SACOT's experience in relation to complaints handling,
national representation and the need for adequate resources
to allow effective input. The seminar had briefly considered
whether there should be a single consumer representation body
for all utility industries or whether an organisation like NCC
could cover the ground instead. The meeting's conclusion was
that while these may be theoretically possible options it would
not be in the consumers' interests to combine representation
as there was too large a risk of key developments in particular
industries being missed. The Secretary felt that this had been
one of the most relevant seminars that he had attended and had
welcomed the opportunity to make an input.
Seminar, Edinburgh, 5 September
5.2 This seminar had presented the results of some recent research
into the public's perception of trust in the public sector.
While of interest, none was of particular relevance to SACOT.
Summaries of the research were available for Members to view
after the meeting.
6. COMPLAINTS STATISTICS
6.1 The statistics were circulated to Members
at the meeting. The Committee regretted that the late arrival
of the statistics had again limited their opportunity for review.
The Committee noted the mix of references to Scotland, Wales
and England. The Secretary explained that this might have been
because of their hurried preparation after he had given a reminder.
Mark Hagger noted that the number of issues continues to rise
slowly. The Chairman noted the sharp increase in Directory Enquiry
complaints from one or two a month to 29 and 45. Mark Hagger
noted the increase in the Aberdeen postcode area that he thought
was probably significant given that the population would be
far lower than Glasgow and Edinburgh postcode areas. The Secretary
was asked to establish what follow up action had taken place
with telecoms operators and to ask for the final set of complaints
statistics to be issued in sufficient time before the final
meeting to allow their scrutiny.
7. SACOT RESEARCH PROJECT
7.1 The Chairman reported that rapid progress
had been made in implementing this project and Members had received
copies of the invitation to tender, note of the tender evaluation
meeting and the successful bid. The Chairman thanked the Secretary
for his efficient handling of the process that had enabled the
work to be commissioned so promptly. The Chairman noted that
all three responses had been of a high quality. The Committee
discussed the amendment of the age range from the original 11
- 18 years old to 12 - 15 years old. The Chairman explained
that, on reflection, there was some research had already been
carried out in the older age range but none was known of in
the crucial younger age range where use of mobile phones was
now becoming commonplace. The locations of the two research
discussion groups were Galashiels and Glasgow. It was intended
that Colin Adamson would present the results of the research
at SACOT's final meeting on 1 December. He may be accompanied
by a NOP World representative, this would be decided nearer
the time. The Secretary confirmed that it was the intention
to circulate the report to Members prior to the final meeting
to ensure they had time to consider it in depth. Members asked
whether it was the intention to circulate the report and the
Chairman confirmed that he intended to send it to the full list
of SACOT contacts, including MPs, MSPs etc. After discussion
it was agreed that this should be done as a separate exercise
to the final 'issues' paper which would be issued in December.
Members also recommended that the report be issued with a good
quality cover in view of its importance, as this would encourage
its retention. Members also recommended a Press Notice to bring
the report to the attention of the media.
8. SCOTTISH CITIZEN AND CONSUMER COMMUNICATIONS FORUM
8.1 The Chairman referred to his letter
to the Scottish Consumer Council (SCC) covering his proposal
for them to establish such a group. He explained that the idea
had been generated by his increasing scepticism that Ofcom's
proposals for supporting the Scottish Advisory Committee to
Ofcom would be effective, at least in the short term. He felt
that there was a need to bring together a range of consumer
representatives that could discuss current issues knowledgeably
and feed in their views to the Consumer Panel and/or Ofcom as
appropriate. If, in due course, Ofcom's and the Consumer Panel's
arrangements for Scotland were seen to be effective it could
be disbanded at that point. The Chairman reported that SCC's
reaction had been positive and the proposal was to be put to
their Council for inclusion in their work plan. Peter Wilson
felt that given the lack of any policy support to Ofcom within
Scotland there was no alternative to establishing such a group.
Mark Hagger felt that there was a need to ensure telecoms issues
were not swamped by broadcasting issues and recommended the
inclusion of a telecoms specialist and also that the general
public should have access to their minutes. Barry Stevens emphasised
the need for the public to feel that they were truly represented.
The Chairman thanked Members for their support and comments
and undertook to pursue these issues with SCC.
9. DIRECTORY ENQUIRIES
9.1 The Chairman referred to the TAP meeting
with the Director General and recent press articles which had
heavily criticised the new arrangements. While the outcome had
realised SACOT's fears and been implemented despite the Committee's
objections it was difficult to see what could now be done constructively.
It was likely that commercial pressures would eliminate the
most expensive and/or inefficient providers. This would probably
take some time. Alastair Robertson noted the information leaflets
that had been issued with new telephone directories would cease
shortly and in any case he was not convinced that this was a
really effective mechanism for informing the public. The Secretary
commented that, apart from cost comparisons, information on
accuracy and efficiency was needed to allow the public to make
an informed choice. Alastair Robertson had noted during SACOT's
visit to the BT Directory Enquiry service in Dundee that operator
efficiency was just as important, if not more, than an accurate
database. Unless the operator was skilled in using key words
for searches the search could be unsuccessful even though the
number was present on the database. Alastair Robertson reported
that the industry had noted that the improvement in directory
enquiry arrangements at public call boxes had been solely because
of pressure from the ACTs. He also reported that ICSTIS were
conducting a review and were holding a meeting on 1 December
to announce the results from a 'mystery shopping' exercise.
As this clashed with SACOT's final meeting he would be unable
to attend but had asked to be informed of the conclusions. He
also confirmed that there were continuing consumer representative
concerns about phase two, which would allow charging for goods
and services to be applied to phone bills. The Chairman suggested
that Alastair Robertson should draft a letter that he could
send to ICSTIS and the Director General covering SACOT's concerns.
ACTION (Alastair Robertson & Chairman)
10. OFCOM TRANSITION
10.1 The Chairman referred to his exchange
of letters with Tony Stoller which confirmed that Ofcom did
not propose to have any policy support resources available to
the national advisory committee in Scotland. The Committee unanimously
agreed that the prospects for an effective advisory committee
looked very bleak as they had no confidence that Ofcom personnel
would be sufficiently appraised of Scottish issues to incorporate
them into consultation documents and finalised papers. It also
looked as though Ofcom planned for the advisory committee to
meet quarterly. Given the ambitions for shorter consultation
periods (see item 14.iii below) this would mean that a proportion
of consultations would not be able to be discussed by national
advisory committees and further inhibit their effectiveness.
The Chairman contrasted this with SACOT's current frequency
of 5 to 6 meetings a year and the large volume of consultations
considered, discussed and responded to. The Chairman noted that
an advertisement had appeared for the Chair, deputy Chair and
Members of the Consumer Panel but that none had yet appeared
for national advisory committees. There would thus be a significant
gap between SACOT's demise and the establishment of effective
advisory committees in each of the home nations.
10.2 The Chairman asked the Secretary to
report on staffing issues concerned with the transition. The
Secretary provided copies of correspondence with Oftel in which
he had queried the SACOT Secretariat's exclusion from the job-matching
and redeployment process. He had received a response acknowledging
that this was an error but maintaining that there were, in any
case, no posts to which they could have been matched. The Secretary
had responded by asking what had happened to the post of 'Manager
of Broadcasting and Telecommunications' which would also be
supporting the national committee. A response was awaited. It
did not appear that Ofcom had taken account of recent legislation
that required employers to treat fixed-term staff on an equal
basis with permanent employees.
10.3 The Chairman stated that he thought
the position was most unsatisfactory and referred to his written
statements to Ofcom, before the job-matching exercise had begun,
which specifically drew their attention to the need to consider
the Oftel staff in Edinburgh. The Committee endorsed the Chairman's
views and unanimously agreed that the Chairman should write
to Ofcom and the Director General, Oftel highlighting the lack
of care for loyal staff apparent in the exercise.
11. SACOT CLOSURE
11.1 The Secretary briefly reviewed the
arrangements for the closure of the SACOT office. The premises
would be vacated on Friday, 19 December and the last reliable
date for e-mail communication would be the previous Friday,
12 December. The Secretary emphasised the importance of all
Members' and Chairman's claims for expenses and allowances being
submitted promptly after the final meeting to allow time for
them to be processed. The Secretary would, however, attend to
any further mail arriving up to 31 December. Members expressed
a wish that minutes of SACOT meetings should be provided to
the Scottish Records Office and the Secretary undertook to arrange
12. SACOT DINNER
12.1 The Assistant Secretary briefly reviewed
the arrangements for the formal dinner to mark the end of SACOT
that would be held at the George Inter-Continental Hotel, George
Street, Edinburgh on the evening of Monday, 1 December. The
accommodation requirements for Members and partners were confirmed.
Consultation document responses for formal endorsement
13. i SACOT Response to Oftel Consultation
Document 2003/S120: "Code of Practice for the Self-Regulation
of New Forms of Content and Experience on Mobiles"
ii SACOT Response to DTI Consultation
Document 2003/S136: "Proposed EU Directive on Unfair Commercial
13.1 The Committee endorsed these responses.
Condocs for discussion
14. i Oftel Consultation Document 2003/S158:
"Review of Competition: Broadcasting Transmission Services"
14.1 The Chairman asked for Members to submit
any views they may have on this consultation to him by e-mail
for incorporation into the response.
ACTION (Members & Chairman)
ii Oftel Consultation Document 2003/S161:
"0845 and 0870 numbers: Review of Retail Price and Numbering
14.2 The Chairman commented that he had
found this consultation rather complex and technical. Mark Hagger
favoured the no-change option as limiting the impact on price
transparency to consumers. He felt that there was a need to
maintain restrictions on maximum charge rates. The Secretary
observed that if phones displayed the costs of all call incrementally
this would be the best information for consumers. While he understood
this was not in the interests of service providers he still
felt it was a goal that should be aimed for. Wendy Reynolds
expressed her preference for simplicity: any further complexity
would simply bewilder most consumers. Barry Stevens suggested
that the period between calls being answered automatically and
connection to a human operator should be free of charge. He
had experienced long delays while being provided with silly
music and pointless messages. The Chairman undertook to incorporate
these views in his response.
iii Ofcom Consultation Document 2003/S162: "How will Ofcom
14.3 The Chairman felt that the aims and
processes detailed were well intentioned but he had concerns
over the shortening of the consultation period from 12 to 10
weeks. He was not sure that this would enable all consumer organisations
to respond within the timescale. Even the Ofcom national advisory
committees, if they met quarterly as was being proposed, would
find that the opportunity to discuss some consultations would
simply not exist. Even SACOT, with 5 or 6 meetings a year, had
difficulty in reading, considering, discussing and responding
to a selection of consultations. How these committees would
cope when broadcasting consultations were included was difficult
to imagine. The Chairman understood the need to have a short
consultation period of 5 weeks when necessary and this would
be acceptable provided it was justifiable and did not become
normal practice. Mark Hagger felt that Ofcom would need to explain
the basis for its decisions clearly and needed to take account
of the consumer perspective. The Chairman suggested that the
inclusion of Consumer Impact Statement would be helpful. The
Committee noted Ofcom's intention of holding open meetings but
felt that their value would be dependent on careful preparation.
The Chairman thanked Members for their input and undertook to
incorporate their views in his response.
15. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
15.1 The Committee briefly discussed the
recent press releases announcing schemes to introduce broadband
to the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland Islands. The Committee
welcomed this initiative.
15.2 Alastair Robertson wished to bring
to the committee's attention the ricability website (ricability.org.uk)
which dealt with community alarm systems.
16. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
16.1 Monday 1 December at 28 Thistle Street,
1.00 pm Buffet Lunch
2.00 pm Meeting
4.30 pm Close