Consuming Issues: Swinging axe at every quango will not pay off

Hands up if you're getting a refund from Npower? OK, not that many – just 1.8 million people.

But if you're one of the 17.5 million with a cash ISA, you're in line for a few extra quid, too. New rules will force providers to divulge annually the interest rate they're paying, make transfers within 15 days and pay interest on new accounts after two days, rather than five. This will hand back about £15m a year.

A group called Consumer Focus is behind both refunds. In the case of Npower, getting the cash was like pulling teeth. After a retired arts teacher (Robert Bramwell take a bow) spotted Npower's bill changes were to the detriment of customers, the firm grudgingly refunded £1.2m to 200,000 people. Consumer Focus took up the case and spent a year going sifting the paperwork, ultimately threatening court action before Npower paid up.

Consumer Focus came into being two years ago, taking over the work of three disbanded organisations – Energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council. To be frank, it got off to a slow start. Sometimes I wondered if I would do a better job on my own if I was sat in an office with a computer and a landline. But this year it's picked up speed and is doing some good work. Big changes are afoot in two areas it monitors: energy, where £200bn investment is required in low-carbon generation; and post, where Royal Mail is being sold off and the Post Office network turned into a co-op.

Just as it's getting going, though, Consumer Focus faces the chop in the Government's "bonfire of the quangos". Its consumer advocacy and policy role will be passed to Citizens Advice Bureau.

Now I'm a fan of CAB, but its specialism is neighbourhood advice rather than national policy. Given that Consumer Focus' work and most of its staff will be transferred, one wonders whether its abolition will save any money. It will, though, allow David Cameron to stand up at next year's Conservative Party conference and include in his list of achievements: "192 quangos abolished" (one, Food From Britain, actually shut last March).

Admittedly, there is some quango bureaucracy to be cut. Merging the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission will save back office costs and should speed up their investigations. Handing the OFT's national enforcement action to trading standards departments, however, is odd; it will take a brave local authority trading standards officer to launch a multi-billion pound legal challenge to banks over current account charges, as the OFT did.

Ditching Consumer Focus is downright peculiar. Moneysavinexpert's Martin Lewis described it as a "bonkers move". He protested: "To remove an organisation that over the last year has found its feet and has made consumers over £80 million in the last couple of months alone, leaves us without any state-funded body focused on fighting for consumers. The focus and power it had to ask questions of big business and big government were integral to supporting consumers."

This is the point: who would have dug in against Npower or ISA providers? The Government could create a stronger watchdog while abolishing more quangos. The Air Transport Users Council, Passenger Focus and Consumer Council for Water could be merged into a bigger Consumer Focus focusing on energy, post, water, rail and air travel – funded by levies on those industries. This would save £20m more than Cabinet axeman Francis Maude's plan and provide proper scrutiny of corporations which occasionally rip off the public, as Npower did.

Even if firms passed on the cost in higher prices, the public would still benefit because of the scale of the likely refunds – as the £5m-a-year-taxpayer-funded Consumer Focus has proved.

If the Government presses ahead with abolishing a good organisation for no good reason, it will reveal it was based on ideology, not practicality.

Heroes and villians

Thirst for self-improvement not matched by banks

Hero: Pepsi

PepsiCo plans to cut water usage and carbon emissions by 50 per cent in five years. Cambridge University will help UK farmers growing crops for Walkers, Copella and Quaker calculate their water use and impact on the climate. Pepsi says: "Few companies have made such ambitious pledges and in such a small time frame." It's right about that.

Villain: Lloyds Bank

Bizarrely, Lloyds Banking Group has not yet signed a code of conduct on taxation, which would commit it to not engaging in tax avoidance schemes for itself or its clients. Labour drew up the code after supporting banking with £850bn of taxpayers' money. We now own 41 per cent of Lloyds. It makes one wonder whether we're getting a good deal.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

    Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

    Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

    £18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

    Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss