Tuesday, February 19, 2008

There is little Ode to Joy for Irish Consumers!!

Quelle Surprise! Another report tells us that we are being ripped off compared to our EU counterparts. Forfas published a report last week which reminds us again just how much over the odds we are paying for everything. Well that is all very good, but what we need now is an action plan to actually address the underlying reasons why the cost of living is so high here. We need a co-ordinated Government response to inflation, we need to overhaul the consumer redress system, we need to either reform or if necessary replace the underperforming regulators and we need to take on the vested interests and inject more competition into the economy. And of course I would say this....we need to make sure CAI and others coming from a consumer perspective are at the table when key decisions are being made to ensure the voice of consumers is heard.

Also last week Paul Kelly in the Irish Examiner did an excellent piece on inflation for everyday costs, in particular food. Its shows that flour has gone up 52%, butter up 27%, milk up 22%, eggs up 16% to name a few. While the overall inflation rate has come down to 4.3% (still very high) in January 2008 these everyday costs have skyrocketed, which hits vulnerable consumers on low and fixed incomes the hardest.

Well what can the EU do to address our inflation problem? The single internal market was supposed to bring extra choice and competition. I think we have got the choice, but the competition has been slow to arrive. Yes, large International and European multinationals have come into the Irish market, but in most cases (perhaps Bank of Scotland-Ireland concerning mortgages is an exception to the rule) rather than shake up the market, seeing how cosy and easy it was to overcharge, they nestled into the Irish way of doing things. So as is confirmed by the Forfas report, Irish consumers have not seen much of the benefits of a single market.

Ode to Joy for Irish Consumers?

The debate on Europe will dominate the political agenda in the coming weeks and months. On a personal basis I am pro-EU and will vote yes for the Lisbon Treaty. It would be easy to blame Brussels for the failure of the single market to benefit consumers. Thats not to say that the EU couldn't do more and I do worry about the army of business and corporate lobbyists who descend on the EU institutions every day to press the case of vested interests. However as with environmental and social legislation, some of our more progressive consumer legislation has been driven by the EU and the actions on flight rights and mobile roaming have been welcome.

What we need to see is a commitment by our own Government and the regulatory bodies here to ensure the full benefits of the single market are passed onto consumers, and that unfortunately has been mostly lacking to date.