Competition Regulation & the Consumer
Competition in any market place is all about providing greater choice for consumers. It generates innovation, efficiency and enterprise amongst businesses, which means that consumers inherently get to enjoy more competitive pricing and improved quality. And it’s protecting and promoting the interests of consumers that the Jersey Consumer Council is concerned with.
Competition, by its very nature, puts businesses under constant pressure to offer the best possible range of goods, at the best possible prices. If they don’t, consumers have the option to buy elsewhere. However, in Jersey, as with many other small Island communities, competition can sometimes be lacking. This means that consumers have limited opportunities to buy elsewhere, which can be extremely frustrating.
Our pivotal role at the Consumer Council is to help minimize these frustrations and boost competition on the Island, by giving consumers a voice and businesses a greater understanding of what consumers need. We do this through ongoing consumer research and collaborative ventures, with our contemporaries at CICRA (Channel Island Competition Regulatory Authority) and Trading Standards; businesses; industry bodies and other community groups and charities.
Regulation seeks to apply rules to make sure that businesses and companies compete fairly with each other and, in Jersey, this is overseen by the CICRA. But somebody needs to be looking out for the little guy and that’s where agencies like the Consumer Council and Trading Standards come in.
The Jersey Consumer Council is a unique body, in that it is independent from government and can act freely as the consumers’ champion. Our role is to encourage businesses to give themselves a competitive edge by putting consumers’ interests first. We investigate and publicise anomalies in consumer affairs. We provide consumers with accurate and timely information, to help them make informed purchasing decisions. And we are dedicated to creating greater transparency amongst businesses competing in the market place.
Transparency can be difficult in a market which lacks competition, but it is essential for giving consumers the opportunity to genuinely compare services and prices. Cast your minds back to petrol stations where, only a few years ago, you were unaware of the price of fuel per litre until you had actually arrived at the pump!
Effective collaboration between the regulatory authorities, the Consumer Council and the fuel providers, there is clear signage, displaying pump prices at the road. Jersey Consumer Council also hosts Jersey Fuel Watch, a website www.jerseyfuelwatch.com on which we display both road fuel and heating oil prices, giving consumers a one-stop price-comparison shop.
One of the most confusing market sectors for consumers is telecommunications. In a bid to improve transparency here, amidst a limited number of highly competitive providers, the Consumer Council established TelCoWatch, a one-stop comparisons website, to help Islanders make informed choices about how and where they best spend their telecoms budget.
This site, which is supported by the telecoms companies, cuts through industry jargon and lays out the product offerings and cost structures available, so that consumers can choose the provider, product and contract which best fits their personal needs. It is collaborations like these, established and driven by the Consumer Council, that serve to create a culture of positive, fair, consumer-led competition on the Island.
Competition isn’t just based on price; the provision of customer care can be a key area of differentiation. This was evident when the Consumer Council conducted some research within the competitive arena of Primary Health Care. Our aim was to challenge providers to be more transparent with their pricing structures, but our findings also revealed that consumers have a strong desire to feel valued – good customer service can be a significant factor in driving their choices.
In a noteable OXERA report, Professor Sir John Vickers noted that ‘in small-island economies, such as Jersey, it is just as important that markets work well, as it is in larger economies. But in smaller jurisdictions competition policy and regulation, where competition is not possible, faces particular challenges.’ The consumer is a key player in keeping businesses competitive – they do their talking with their £££s, which can be just as powerful as regulatory efforts to control competition.
What is clear is that the consumer voice needs to be heard. Looking after their interests is a crucial aspect within a successful, competitive market place and the Consumer Council continues to work with, and behalf of, Islanders to make a positive and valued influence on our local economy