Right of Reply: The director of the Consumers' Association responds to a recent article in the Outlook section of the business pages which argued that regulation is the enemy of competition

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The Independent Culture
IT IS simply not true that consumerism can be equated totally with deregulation; it is more a case of appropriate regulation allied to strong competition. Effective competition in markets can be assured only with clear laws. History teaches us that a totally laissez-faire deregulatory attitude leads to monopolies and the abuse of consumers.

A key part of the appropriate regulation needed to ensure that markets work well is consumer protection. To make informed choices, consumers need to have minimum rules that stop them being conned or ripped off.

It is amazing that Outlook can consider charges for bank cash-machine use as an indication of competition. This is just good old profit-maximising behaviour by oligopolists. The number of bank branches has decreased steadily over the years, while the number of cash machines has increased (particularly on non-bank sites). The likelihood that you will be able to take money out of "your" bank's machine has thus fallen. Banks have been sneakily imposing charges knowing that, in most cases, consumers will not notice.

The issue of social exclusion is considerably more complex than your comment suggests. We have long argued for making markets work more effectively. We championed the recent changes in competition law for well over a decade. We are at the forefront of tackling anti-competitive behaviour. However, we also recognise that markets cannot solve all problems. Markets are great at dealing with allocative efficiency, but equity, exclusion and poverty are the provenance of social regulation and need to be tackled by government. This means that governments cannot simply shout "let the market deal with it" and run for cover.