Walking back through the gates of Downing Street on Friday, the first time under the new administration, I was struck by how everything feels and looks the same…
While of course the physicality hasn’t changed much, the place is so embodied by the spirit of the Govt that the hue seems slightly irrelevant. And I’m pleased to say that when it came to discussing consumer finance policies, not much seems to have changed there either.
The invite came ten days ago
My first meet at no.10 was last October, under the Labour Government.
It was the start of a productive relationship with the consumer finance special advisor (a special advisor is the only category of political appointee civil servant, so they change with the administration. A PM has a raft of them, virtually replicating the cabinet).
It helped move credit card regulation, financial education and even some options for bank charges forward, and was a great way to broach the bigger consumer issues and find out what was going on.
I had no clue how the land would lie under the new Govt. MSE is deliberately non-paritisan and was studiously neutral during the election (see MSE leaders’ debate). In the past we’ve had discussions with both Lib Dems and Tories, so that wasn’t the concern. I was worried about whether consumer finance is on the coalition’ s agenda.
Thankfully about ten days ago I was delighted when we got a call to go in and have a meeting about it. After all the next couple of years will be challenging – with the necessary spending cuts, ensuring consumer protection is solid becomes even more important.
An exploratory discussion
Yesterday MSE Dan (who took the obligatory pic at the door for his first trip, as I did on mine) and I went to meet with two No.10 special advisors, a Lib-Dem and a Tory.
The agenda was fluid as both overlook consumer finance issues as part of their portfolio. We spent a productive hour or so chatting through various subjects seeing where views coalesced and the rare places they didn’t.
I was struck by how similar their views of the problems are to the last administration’s. In some cases the proposed solutions vary, but not too radically. I suspect it’s because consumer finance regulation isn’t contentious like Trident or ID cards. We all know there are some glaring areas where consumer protection needs strengthening.My number one campaigning issue at the moment is financial education. Sort that out and everything else should fall into place, so that was top of my agenda. We also ran through bank charges, store and credit card regulation, doorstep lending, tax credits (operational issues, not amounts) and many other points of the MSE Consumer Manifesto.
It was interesting to hear how many of the Manifesto’s ideas are or have already been adopted. Many are in the coalition agreement, and I discovered more in the meeting. Best of all I was delighted that they’re going to be looking at how to regulate home heating oil, a massive issue for rural dwellers. This needs prioritising just as much as normal gas and electricity regulation.
Fingers crossed this will be the start of a productive relationship. We’ve already said MSE is happy to host discussions regarding issues, to help them get feedback to make decisions. Plus we hope to do the 2nd Consumer Manifesto, which this time will go straight to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.