Saturday, March 1, 2008

Dustin Douze Points, Competition Nil Point!

Well firstly congrats to Dustin on the great win last Saturday night, I have no doubt he will take Belgrade by storm. On the other hand, competition and consumers took a bit of a battering over the last 10 days and by Euro standards we are not in great shape.

First there was of course Noel Dempsey's decision to shelve competition in Dublin Bus, which is another blow to the hard pressed commuters, who have been waiting years for better services, lower prices and integrated ticketing. The problem with transport services in this country is that they are run and planned to meet the needs of everyone, politicians, managers and unions, all except of course the people this service is supposed to be for...the users, who appear to be an after thought.

Then there was the news (not really news actually as previous CAI surveys for ODCA told us the same thing) that there was limited competition in the groceries sector. The NCA report confirmed that there was little price differential between Tesco and Dunnes Stores, although Aldi and Lidl were much cheaper. While I welcome this survey, I think it has limited value. We have to stop putting the onus on consumers solely to drive change, state agencies like NCA who have a large budget need to be more innovative. I would like NCA to do localised surveys, like a price survey of the main shops in Ashbourne and publish it in the local papers. Now that would grab the local people's attention, but more importantly would grab the attention of the local retailers and traders, no one would want to be the dearest and would help drive and keep prices down.

Dustin douze points!

Also this week the Competition Authority published their 2007 annual report. Now as state agencies go, I think they do a good job. They have produced a number of reports on a range of sectors in the economy where we badly need more competition such as the legal profession, banking, public transport etc. They have managed to shed light on areas of the economy which up to now have been sheltered by uncompetitive practices and vested interests. The problem of course is that they are largely dependent on Government Departments and other state agencies to implement the findings of their reports. According to their own analysis (see page 56-57) the vast majority of these recommendations have not been implemented yet.

We need to inject accountability into the system, so that Government departments and state agencies are required to respond and act within a reasonable period. In the UK they have a system whereby the Government issues a formal response to a report by the Office of Fair Trading. We need something similar here, there may be difficulties with requiring a Government department to respond to a state agency, could create some governance issues. So instead we could require the Competition Authority to report on the response to their recommendation into the relevant Oireachtas committee within 6 months and every 2 years after that, until it is felt the work has been achieved. That would hopefully shame those Government Depts and agencies into action.

I also see that the Office for Fair Trading is for a trial period going to offer rewards for cartel whistelblowers. It will be interesting to see how this goes, but if it works over there it is something CAI will be pursuing here as well.