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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 00:00 GMT
Consumer watchdogs slated by MPs
Edward Leigh MP
Watchdogs need to fire on all cylinders says Edward Leigh, MP.
The consumer watchdogs for the energy and postal industries have been called "feeble" by a committee of MPs.

In its latest report, the Public Accounts Committee said Energywatch and Postwatch have been heard of by only a tiny minority of consumers.

It also said they were unimpressive and did not record how effective they were in helping members of the public.

Both Energywatch and Postwatch said that they did not agree with the committee's findings.

"We do not recognise the organisation as portrayed in the press statement," said Energywatch.

Past praise

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman, Edward Leigh MP, said the two watchdogs should cut their costs which have risen unjustifiably.

Energywatch and Postwatch need to stop stuttering along and fire on all cylinders
Edward Leigh MP

Both organisations were set up in 2000 to represent and help consumers, although neither of them has any regulatory powers.

Just over a year ago, in October 2004, The National Audit Office (NAO) gave the watchdogs a largely favourable report.

The head of the NAO, Sir John Bourn, said he applauded the efforts of the two organisations to speak up for consumers, although he believed they needed to do more to show the extent of the benefits they had brought to consumers.

More critical

However, Mr Leigh took a much more critical attitude.

He said both organisations needed to find out more about the needs of consumers, such as the elderly and those on low incomes.

And he claimed that only 2% of the population had heard of them.

The PAC has put forward several recommendations for Energywatch and Postwatch, saying they should:

  • carry out research on what consumers want, not just rely on complaints as a barometer of public concerns.
  • record and report on the compensation they win for consumers.
  • be more innovative in communicating with the public.
  • move to offices outside London to cut costs.
  • improve the way Postwatch handles complaints about the Post Office.

Mr Leigh suggested that the two organisations had made little impact on the continued high level of complaints about energy companies and the Royal Mail.

"Some five years after the creation of these well-funded, specialist consumer bodies, there is still a lot of dissatisfaction with energy and postal services", he said.

"Energywatch and Postwatch need to stop stuttering along and fire on all cylinders", he demanded.

'More effective'

Energywatch pointed to its positive report from the NAO.

"The NAO report upon which the [PAC] inquiry was based, did raise some issues that we have now addressed, but it was generally positive about our work" said Energywatch.

"We believe we have become even more effective for consumers since the PAC inquiry in January 2005, and consequently, are struggling to recognise the descriptions given in the press statement."

Postwatch said that while the PAC report "makes a number of important points", "some of the recommendations have been overtaken by events".

Yet Postwatch did agree that its public profile needed to be higher.

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