MINUTES OF THE 80th
MEETING HELD ON TUESDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2002 AT THE ROYAL HIGHLAND HOTEL, INVERNESS
Jeremy Mitchell (Chair)
Barry Stevens MBE
Peter Waller, Oftel
Paul Rogers, Oftel
George Halford (Secretary)
Jan Edwards (Assistant Secretary)
1. OPENING REMARKS AND APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
1.1 The Chair welcomed members to the 80th
meeting that was being held in Inverness following the SACOT Broadband Conference. The
Chair welcomed Peter Waller and Paul Rogers from Oftel to their first SACOT meeting.
1.2 The only apology was from Peter Wilson.
2. MINUTES OF THE 79th MEETING HELD ON
23 JULY 2002
2.1 These were approved.
3. MATTERS ARISING FROM THE 79th
- Letters that had been received from peers and MPs after the
Parliamentary Reception were circulated for Members to note. The Chair asked for reactions
from those that had attended. Members agreed that the event had been most successful and
there had been a keen interest from the peers and MPs present. The Secretary, Peter Waller
and Paul Rogers also felt that the event had succeeded in communicating SACOT's views on
the Draft Communications Bill.
- The Chair asked what contact Members had had since the agreed
allocation of ACT Members to Oftel projects had been published. Alastair Robertson, Mark
Hagger, Kenneth Murray, Chris Griffith and Barry Stevens all reported that they had been
contacted and Alastair Robertson had attended one meeting. Barry Stevens had been
contacted twice but was unhappy that one letter that he had received had questioned what
input he would be able to make and he felt that this was not a constructive beginning.
Wendy Reynolds had not, as yet, been contacted. Peter Waller suggested that Barry Stevens
should contact the project manager concerned, as there was a need for a dialogue to
clarify what input the project manager was looking for and what Barry Stevens could offer.
The Chair suggested that the Committee should continue to monitor progress and asked the
Secretary to make this a standing item on the agenda.
ACTION (Barry Stevens/Secretary)
- 3.3 September SACOT/CfB meeting Inverness
- The Chair asked Members to express their views on the SACOT Broadband
Conference that had been held earlier in the day. All Members agreed that the feedback
they had received from attendees had been most positive and it appeared that the event had
been well worthwhile. Peter Waller asked what media attention there had been. It was known
that at least one journalist had attended and Gillian Marles, Consumer Affairs
correspondent of BBC Scotland, who had opened the Conference, had carried out some
interviews. The Secretary had also carried out two local radio interviews prior to the
event. The Secretary had received a letter from John Thurso, MP asking for feedback from
the Conference. The Chair said that he was most gratified at how well the event had gone.
It had never been SACOTs aim to hold a full-scale event like those of NIACT but to
focus on a specific theme of relevance to a significant proportion of Scotland remote from
the central belt. The Chair would ask Members at the next meeting to consider what, if
anything, should be done to build on its success. In the meantime, he expressed his
sincere thanks to those Members that had been involved with the Secretariat in its
planning and particularly to Alistair Robertson who had devoted so much of his time to it.
- The Chair asked Mark Hagger to report on the progress of his
negotiations with Alistair Cox of Oftel in improving the presentation of SACOT complaints
statistics. Mark Hagger said that the tables were much improved and now focused more
heavily on trends. Only some minor improvements were still needed that he would pursue
with Alistair Cox.
ACTION (Mark Hagger)
4. REPORTS FROM CHAIR AND MEMBERS
i. Chairs Report
- This was an error in the agenda, a report from the Secretary would be
made on the General Conditions of Entitlement Workshop held 24 July.
- Consumers Association Policy Summit, 24 July
4.2 The Chair had attended this forum which brought
together representatives of manufacturers, retailers and consumers. The theme was on
standards of customer service. Little of substance emerged but an item of interest was
that the Consumers Association was in process of establishing an office in
- Meeting of Telecoms Ombudsman Council, 10 September
4.3 The Chair reported that the main area of
progress had been the selection of an HQ location which was to be in Warrington, in North
West England. Financial arrangements had been secured and the aim was for the organisation
to be open for business from 1 January 2003.
- National Consumer Federation Annual Conference, 14 September
4.4 The Chair had been invited to address the first
conference of this newly merged organisation on the telecommunications aspects of the
Draft Communications Bill, Jocelyn Hay had done likewise for broadcasting aspects. The
first Chair of NCF was Dick Mackie, Chair of the Edinburgh Consumer Group. The SACOT Chair
had also been invited to speak on the same topic to a Voice of the Listener and Viewer
Conference to be held in Edinburgh.
ii. Members Reports
- Financial Services Authority - e-Commerce Committee
4.5 Alastair Robertson reported that he had attended
a meeting that had been convened to consider new risks. Concern had been expressed at the
implications of broadband access with systems being constantly connected and of mobile
phone transactions which would involve up to 40 small screens. It was not clear what
evidence would be available to the consumer to document the transaction and this was not
helped by the secrecy that surrounded newly emerging technology/software. New money
laundering restrictions, which were quickly implemented after 11/09/01, were now seen to
be lacking in certain areas and further research was being undertaken.
- Communications for Business (CfB)
4.6 The Committee for Business had met in Inverness
the previous afternoon and Alastair Robertson stated that they had been briefed on new
research which indicated that there was still a significant lack of awareness amongst the
general public of the Telephone Preference Scheme and the similar Fax Scheme. Increasing
numbers of consumers were becoming ex-directory primarily to avoid cold-selling calls. The
opt-out system in the UK was contrasted with the opt-in system current in Germany. CfB had
been addressed by Peter Waller, Oftel, concerning OFCOM developments.
- Directory Enquiries Consumer Group
4.7 Alastair Robertson reported that parallel
running of the new directory enquiry operators with the current service was due to start
on 10 December and continue through to April 2003, with 32 operators participating. Most
offered only white page services, but some yellow. A leaflet was
to be issued to consumers from December with telephone books. Careful monitoring of
quality of service was required by ICSTIS as much would depend on the source data and the
skill of the operator. One operator, Vodafone, had argued for specific guidelines, rather
than general. The service provider was responsible for connection to services, except for
adult services. The committee was concerned over which number would be supplied when
multiple service providers in the locality were available; if this were to be driven by
the amount of fee then some kind of warning should be given to consumers.
- Consumer Forum on Communications
- Peter Wilson was not present to report on this group but the Chair
expressed his doubts that it was achieving much and would check with Peter Wilson whether
it was worthwhile to continue to participate.
- CCE Internet Seminar, 9 September
4.9 Kenneth Murray and Alastair Robertson had
attended this event which seemed to be designed to inform CCE as much as attendees on
current issues. While both had found it of interest they felt that it had lacked focus.
5. SECRETARY'S REPORT
- Chairmans Group , SCC, 3 September
- The Secretary had attended this event and had briefed them on
developments with the Draft Communications Bill and the Parliamentary Reception that
Graham Moore of SCC had attended. The main item of business had been the planning of a
joint Scottish Parliamentary Reception that SCC would organise and each of the regulatory
bodies could participate in. This would be held in Edinburgh at The Hub from
4.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. on Wednesday 27th November. SCC needed to be advised of
which MSPs should be invited and any other required guests. The Chair asked the Secretary
to e-mail Members to see if they were able to attend.
- General Conditions of Entitlement workshop, 24 July
5.2 The Secretary had attended this event at the
last minute due to the sudden unavailability of Alastair Robertson. The session had
provided useful general background on the implications of the move from a licensing system
to one of Conditions of Entitlement as required to implement EU legislation by mid-2003.
Topics for discussion
- COMPLAINTS STATISTICS
- The Committee considered the Oftel statistics, which had only very
recently been received and distributed. It was noted that complaints about BTs
repair service showed a significant increase and it was agreed that this should be added
to the agenda of the next meeting with the Director of BT Scotland. Mark Hagger suggested
a comparative graph would be helpful and undertook to liaise with Alastair Cox to have
this included. The Committee discussed whether it would be possible to develop seasonally
adjusted figures to clarify trends but it was felt that since centralisation of complaints
handling that there had been insufficient elapsed time to enable this to be extrapolated.
The Secretary observed, however, that since complaints handling had moved to London there
had been next to no advice to the SACOT Secretariat of items of interest, or significant
issues and other than those that still arrived at Edinburgh to be relayed the Secretariat
was effectively blind. The Committee agreed that this situation did not match their
understanding of Oftels commitments at the time that complaints handling was
centralised. The Chair undertook to write to Oftel about the situation. The Secretary
suggested that Alistair Cox be invited to attend the next SACOT meeting and present the
statistics and expand on what was behind any noticeable movements. The Committee agreed to
OFTELS CURRENT STRATEGY
- Peter Waller addressed the Committee on Oftels current
strategy. This was essentially fairly clear and could be summarised as competition
plus. This meant a move to greater reliance on the positive effects of competition
allied with positive intervention where justified and improving the information available
to consumers. The last 12 months had seen a dramatic change in the economic health of the
telecoms industry and this required Oftel to act sensitively. Oftel strategy would,
however, be reviewed over the coming months to ensure it was in tune with the needs of
consumers and the nation as a whole. With the move away from licensing to general
conditions of entitlement and the later advent of OFCOM there was a need to manage the
transition period with care.
- Alistair Robertson made a plea that in assessing the degree of
competition in specific market areas that there was a need to be more sophisticated than
to just consider percentage of the UK market. Such reviews needed to be at less than
Member State level, only then would it be clear that large swathes of Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland were effectively monopoly situations in contrast to Southeast England.
The Chair argued that it was important to undertake a proper analysis first and once that
clarified the situation, only then should the economic implications be considered. Peter
Waller accepted this and explained that Oftel workload in the next few months would be
dominated by market reviews and defining product markets. This gave Oftel a unique
opportunity to review the consistency of market regulation and introduce harmonising
adjustments.. Peter Waller also reviewed some areas of current disagreement between the
industry and Oftel.
7.3 Barry Stevens asked why Oftel appeared to give
little credence to the views of the ACTs. Peter Waller felt that this was not the case but
understood that Oftel gave that appearance too often. He was sure the situation would be
improved if consultation began earlier than with the issue of the formal consultation
had had copied to them a summary of the conclusions and recommendations of the Joint
Scrutiny Committee of both Houses on the Draft Communications Bill. The Chair felt that
this was very helpful, as the Committee had picked up on the confusion in terminology and
made a number of helpful points on representation of nations etc. The Chair reviewed the
current standpoint of the Scottish Executive with regard to the draft legislation. He
explained that this was a sensitive period and he did not want to prejudice matters by
being too forceful. The Committee agreed to delegate to the Chair full powers for
negotiating with the Scottish Executive and MSPs with the aim of securing better
representation of, and arrangements for, the interests of consumers in Scotland. Peter
Waller was sure that Ministers would be considering the recommendations of the Joint
Scrutiny Committee and it would become apparent when the Bill was first laid to what
extent they had conceded to the views expressed during the consultation period. The new
OFCOM Board would also be considering consumer representation arrangements and they might
be wary of a proliferation of National committees. If, after the legislation was
published, SACOT still felt the need to argue for strengthened arrangements then there
would be a need to lobby not only politicians, but also the developing OFCOM hierarchy.
Peter Waller reviewed a number of OFCOM developments that were current including Board
appointments and drafting of advertisements for key senior management appointments. A
consultancy report on OFCOM was also nearing completion that also included recommendations
on its integrated structure.
Consultation document responses for formal
Oftel Consultation Document (S027/2002): "The General Conditions
Oftel Consultation Document (S029/2002):
"Consumer Protection Policy Review Guidelines"
Oftel Consultation Document (S030/2002):
"Consultation on Proposals to Change the Framework for Number Portability"
Oftel Consultation Document (S031/2002):
"Statement and Further Consultation on the Inclusion of Directory Enquiries within
the Carrier PreSelection All Calls Option"
9.1 The Committee approved all these responses.
Consultation documents for discussion
10. DTI Consultation Document (S052/2002): "Electronic
Communications (Market Analysis and Universal Service Regulations 2002)"
- The Chair introduced this document and observed that it was largely
procedural. He had, however, noted a very important point in paragraph 3 i (a) on page 7
which specifically allowed for analysis to distinguish between different geographical
- The Chair noted that a further set of consultation documents had been
received since the agenda had been agreed. These were from the Law Commission and The
Scottish Law Commission and were concerned with the harmonisation of legislation. The
Committee agreed that the Chair should respond in support.
Documents for noting
11 ANY OTHER BUSINESS
11.1 ITEC IT Conference, London. It was agreed that
there was no need to send a representative.
11.2 Kenneth Murray asked the Oftel representatives
whether there would be an ACT Member Conference this year. Peter Waller asked for the
Committees views on the last ACT Conference and it was agreed that there was
probably a need to hold a further, and final, conference at some point in 2003 at a point
when the legislative framework was finalised. Transition arrangements for the ACTs to the
Consumer Panel could then usefully be reviewed.
11.3 Chris Griffith asked Peter Waller what he had
learnt from his visit to SACOT. Peter Waller replied that he had found the visit most
worthwhile, congratulated SACOT for holding such a successful event and would bear in mind
the issues of effective and early communication with consumer representatives in any
consideration of OFCOM arrangements that he was involved in.
11.4 Barry Stevens asked for a schedule of 2003
meeting dates. The Chair undertook to meet the Secretary to decide these after which the
dates would be advised to Members.
11.5 The Chair noted that Jan Edwards had now
transferred from an employment agency to an Oftel employee. Jan Edwards was making a very
effective contribution to the Secretariat and was taking a much stronger supportive role
to the Secretary. Accordingly, he felt that her position should be retitled Assistant
Secretary. The Committee agreed.
11.6 The Chair suggested that, to aid SACOTs
role in representing consumer interests, representatives of the Scottish Consumer Council,
Consumers Association and the National Consumers Federation/Edinburgh Consumer Group
be invited to the next meeting and to give short addresses. If this was felt to be
successful, they could be invited to attend regularly. The Committee agreed. Mark Hagger
asked about the existence of other local consumer groups in Scotland.
11.7 The Secretary highlighted that Katherine Phipps
of DIEL had attended the Conference and that the current DIEL observer had not yet managed
to attend in over a year. As Katherine would be willing to attend SACOT meetings, would it
be possible to invite her to attend? The Chair and Committee agreed that she should be
invited and the Chair undertook to write to her accordingly.
12 DATE OF NEXT MEETING
12.1 19th November in Edinburgh (at 10.30
a.m. NOT 11.00 a.m. as printed in the agenda).
Sent via Compliment Slip to :
1 July 2002
3 Items attached for information/attention
(including the Minutes of Meeting held on 18 June 2002).