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.

m.hickman@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

    Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015