Parcel delivery charges
With the busy Christmas period fast-approaching, many of us take for granted the convenience of being able to shop online.
But for many people in certain parts of Scotland, it brings into particular focus an issue with which they are all-too-familiar – having to pay through the nose to get packages delivered.
I understand their frustration. As someone who lives in a rural community myself – although fortunately not one affected by rip-off parcel delivery charges – I know just how important good connectivity is for families, for businesses and for the wider economy.
Despite some progress, people living in the northern part of Scotland are still losing out from a parcel delivery market which is still failing to provide parity of service for them.
Customers in the Highlands and Islands, Perthshire, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City are still facing disproportionate and unfairly high delivery costs when they are buying online.
This is simply not fair. In the words of Citizens Advice Scotland, they face a Postcode Penalty.
The Scottish Government has long called for an end to these unfair charges.
However, the frustrating reality is that – while we can promote good practice – we are limited in the action we can take.
Only the UK Government have the power to regulate parcel deliveries – and only they can compel meaningful change.
When raising the subject of Postcode Penalties with UK Government ministers in the past, I have been frustrated by the repeated refusal to take action – although I welcome the recent promise from the Digital Economy Minister to look into the matter.
To date, UK Ministers have said they do not believe further legislation is necessary – instead pledging to work with consumer agencies to make sure retailers are aware of and fulfil their responsibilities.
Promoting good practice among retailers is vitally important; however, when those responsibilities are repeatedly not met, and when consumers continue to be penalised, it is up to the government of the day to act.
The parcel delivery market must work in the interests of both consumers and business, and the UK Government – with regulatory responsibility – needs to address the widespread concern on this issue.
Until they do, the Scottish Government will continue to use its influence to try to bring about positive change.
My predecessor, Fergus Ewing, chaired Parcel Delivery Summits in 2012 and 2013 which eventually led to a Statement of Principles for retailers. The Scottish Government worked closely with representatives from retail, courier and consumer sectors to ensure they made a difference and encouraged good practice, including: ensuring charges reflect actual delivery costs, and providing the widest possible delivery coverage. The UK Government announced in July 2014 that they were following our lead and adopting the Statement of Principles across the UK.
I believe those principles have helped raise awareness of the issue, supported good business practice and reduced the number of customers abandoning purchases that they would otherwise have made.
I want to build on that – so, following a request from Richard Lochhead MSP, who has led an outstanding campaign on this issue, supported by the Daily Mail and other papers, I plan to convene a roundtable to bring together relevant interested groups in Scotland. The roundtable will be designed to complement the work currently being done by others, and will be an opportunity to discuss the research and recommendations which Citizens Advice Scotland published yesterday. It will also be an opportunity to hear how we can work together to provide the most effective response to parcel delivery charges including advice to consumers on how they can protect themselves.
Today the Scottish Parliament will debate parcel delivery charges – and I look forward to outlining in detail the action we are taking to improve the online experience for all consumers.
Let me be clear though: there are no easy solutions to the longstanding problems around parcel delivery charges in the north of Scotland, – but the Scottish Government will continue to play its part in helping to find a way forward which is fair for consumers and supports businesses that already do the right thing.
I will continue to bring together a wide range of initiatives and players, all with the aim of delivering the real change needed to eliminate the unfairness experienced by so many consumers and businesses.
It may be too late for the UK Government to take any meaningful action in time for this Christmas – but an early present that they could give to long-suffering communities all over Scotland is a commitment to ensure this will be the last Christmas that they face rip-off costs for parcel deliveries.