The National Performance Framework (NPF) has a vital role in policymaking in Scotland, shaping the priorities and actions of the Scottish Government and public bodies and providing a shared framework for measuring progress towards goals. As such, Consumer Scotland welcomed the opportunity to provide a consultation response to the recent review of the National Outcomes set out in the NPF.
While there is already a clear relationship between consumer interests and the outcomes and indicators in the NPF our analysis has identified a number of areas where this relationship should be significantly strengthened. In fact, the term ‘consumer’ does not currently appear in the descriptors or vision statements for any of the eleven current National Outcomes and it is our view that this omission represents a significant gap.
The annual collective economic power of consumers in Scotland is substantial. In 2021 household expenditure for Scotland was £101.4 billion, contributing 61% to Scotland’s GDP. Under our founding legislation Consumer Scotland also defines consumers to include small businesses. As at March 2022, there were 355,000 small businesses in Scotland providing an estimated 920,000 jobs and contributing 27% of private sector turnover - around £74 billion.
Given this context, the successful achievement of all the outcomes in the NPF involves people acting as consumers in some capacity and requires the advancement of consumer wellbeing.
Consumers are a vital force for growth, economic transformation, and delivering the transition to net zero. Healthy economic markets require consumer demand, the availability of appropriate and affordable goods and services, and consumer confidence. For this to be achieved, consumers must be treated fairly. They must be well informed about the goods and services they are buying or using, be empowered to make the right choices for their circumstances and be able to access redress when something goes wrong.
Consumers in Scotland currently face an unprecedented period of challenge and change. In particular, the decline in real household disposable income – the cost of living – as prices have risen across many markets, has brought substantial challenges to the wellbeing of consumers and is undermining consumers’ capacity to support a healthy economy and to act in a range of ways that would contribute to the realisation of many National Outcomes.
There is also an urgent need in Scotland to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. The evolving transition to net zero is transforming markets and services and these complex issues impact on consumers in multiple ways. Consumers have a vital role to play if Scotland is to make this transition successfully.
The achievement of the purpose and outcomes of the NPF will require each of these critical sets of consumer issues to be addressed. The absence of any reference to consumers within the NPF, across its purpose, values, outcomes, or indicators, now looks out of line with devolved responsibilities and with a considered assessment of the drivers of well-being in Scotland.
As we have set out in our response to the review of the NPF, a more explicit, visible recognition of the role of consumers within the National Outcomes would encourage and empower policymakers across government and public bodies in Scotland to consider consumer interests when formulating and implementing policy. This would be in line with, and would support, other recent strategic decisions that strengthen the position of consumers in the Scottish public policy landscape, notably the establishment of Consumer Scotland and the creation of a new duty on public bodies in Scotland to have regard to consumer interests when taking strategic decisions.
Our advice is that the Scottish Government should consider strengthening the recognition of consumers in the NPF by creating a new National Outcome on consumer wellbeing, alongside additional adaptations of other outcomes.
In particular, we would recommend the Scottish Government significantly strengthens the recognition and visibility of consumers in the description and vision statements for both the National Outcome on the Economy and the National Outcome on Fair Work and Business to recognise the importance of consumers. In doing so the Scottish Government should work with key consumer bodies in Scotland on a new suite of broad consumer indicators to measure progress in relation to the Outcomes described above.
We also recommend that the Scottish Government adapts and expands a number of existing indicators to provide a fuller picture of the consumer experience.
These recommendations, and a number of other measures in our submission, provide an opportunity to establish consumers at the heart of the refreshed NPF. Such a step would help enable all consumers in Scotland to play a vital part in delivering a healthy economy, driving wellbeing, and supporting a successful transition to net zero.
We welcome the fact the Scottish Government has engaged with us on this important issue and would be pleased to continue to work with them, and other consumer organisations, to support the further development of the NPF and put consumers at the heart of the future approach.