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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 04 December 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Achieving a Fairer Scotland, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Delivery Charges


Contents


Delivery Charges

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20029, in the name of Gail Ross, on unfair delivery charges. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the increase in internet shopping and e-commerce that allows customers to order goods online for delivery to their own homes or businesses; acknowledges the ongoing campaigns that highlight the number of retailers and couriers that continue to apply very significant parcel delivery surcharges to many Scottish postcode areas, particularly in the north of the country, despite others offering free delivery or only modest surcharges; believes that the picture across the country is inconsistent and confusing; understands that many retailers continue to advertise free UK mainland delivery yet exclude parts of mainland Scotland from this definition, while others simply refuse to deliver to parts of the country; believes that discriminatory parcel delivery surcharges result in an additional cost to customers in Scotland, which has been estimated by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) to be over £40 million annually compared with elsewhere in the UK, and acknowledges the calls for all relevant authorities to further address this issue as a matter of priority to ensure fair delivery charges.

16:53  

Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I thank everyone who signed my motion and those who intend to speak in the debate—their support is appreciated.

Almost two years ago to the very day, we debated the issue of unfair delivery charges in a debate that was led by Richard Lochhead, whom I thank for running the campaign from the start with input from other members and our constituents. Many of our constituents have come to us in frustration and with what are, quite frankly, crazy stories about over-the-top delivery charges. In that debate, there was consensus from all parties, and everyone who spoke gave at least one account, if not more, of people and businesses being charged more because of their postcodes.

In Richard Lochhead’s speech in that debate, he stated that he thought that it would be a “turning point”. He insisted that,

“To end rip-off delivery charges, we need common standards by which all retailers and couriers must abide”,

and he urged the minister to

“take up the cudgels on behalf of customers and the people of Scotland, take the case to the retailers and couriers, lobby his UK counterparts and use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers over consumer advocacy and advice to tackle this issue.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2017; c 92.]

However, unfortunately, we find ourselves debating the issue again. In fact, we are now in an even worse position. A recent report shows that the cost to people in Scotland of additional delivery charges is now £40 million—it has gone up 11 per cent since we previously debated the issue.

Parcel delivery is an ever-growing sector, and the geography of the land—particularly in the Highlands and Islands—means that issues can, and often do, arise.

I asked members of the public to get in touch with me with personal accounts of difficulties that they have encountered in that respect, and I thank everyone who responded. Here are some examples. A sofa that cost £299, with a delivery charge of £600 to postcode IV25, was not delivered, with the reason given being a failure to find a courier. Someone tried to get a box of gifts weighing 5kg delivered to postcode KW1, but the delivery charge was £11.30 going north and only £4.80 going south, with no reason given. Free delivery was advertised for orders over £29 but, when someone placed an order for delivery to postcode IV2, the postage on the final payment screen was £11.98, with the reason given that the person lived in Scotland. The delivery charge to postcode DD9 for a futon costing £269 was £189, with the reason given that the person lived outside mainland England. It cost £78 to deliver bathroom furniture to Alness, but it was free to deliver it to North Ayrshire. Someone paid for a cooker and was then reimbursed because there was no shipping to the Highlands and Islands, despite there having been no notification of that when the person bought it.

I have seen screenshots of people’s arguments with companies about next-day delivery. People are guaranteed next-day delivery then, when it does not happen, there is no apology and just a flippant, “Well, we could never do next-day delivery to your postcode anyway.” I have seen a copy of a message from Amazon that blamed the Scottish Government, and there are many more such examples. I am sure that many other members will add to the ever-growing list of people who have been let down by there being no next-day delivery, no cheap option or simply no delivery to their area.

It is not as though we do not already have UK law and policies that online retailers must abide by. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that terms must be

“brought to the consumer’s attention in such a way that an average customer would be aware”.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit traders from being involved in “misleading omissions”—in other words, omitting or withholding material information. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 state that information should be provided before a contract is made, including

“all additional delivery charges and any other costs”.

The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science (Richard Lochhead)

I congratulate the member on securing this important debate. Does she agree that it is absurd that in places such as Moray the delivery trucks pass homes and businesses to which they charge a delivery cost and surcharge in order to reach homes and businesses to which they deliver free? That reinforces the case for the UK Government to, at long last, take the issue seriously, regulate and live up to its responsibilities.

Gail Ross

I do not disagree with anything that Richard Lochhead has said.

There is now a website—consumeradvice.scot—that people can use to report companies that break the rules. It is also working with Highland Council, Trading Standards Scotland and the Scottish Government to challenge hidden and increased delivery costs. I encourage anyone who is watching to feed back their experiences of excessive delivery charges, so that companies can be held to account.

Trading Standards Scotland and local authorities have been doing some great work, as has Citizens Advice Scotland, which I thank for all the work that it has done in the area for many years, and for the comprehensive briefing that it sent to us. It recommends that the public and private sectors should explore solutions together; that businesses should take the lead in reducing surcharges and put pressure on other businesses to do likewise; that Ofcom should continue to use its powers to seek agreements between retailers and delivery companies; that the Scottish Government should continue to implement its fairer delivery for all action plan, which could include a data hub so that people can compare and contrast delivery charges; and that consumers and businesses should be aware of their rights.

It is correct to say that many people north of the central belt are subject to unfair delivery surcharges, misleading next-day delivery claims and, in some cases, no delivery at all. Christmas is a busy time for online sales, and it brings the issue into focus for many people.

As the online market grows and people depend more and more on delivery companies, all Governments and organisations must do everything possible to stop this discrimination, make the system more transparent and user friendly, ensure that consumers know their rights and clamp down on the companies that refuse to follow consumer law.

17:00  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Gail Ross for bringing the issue of delivery charges before us in Parliament today.

For too long, there have been huge disparities in what constituents in the area that I represent have had to pay. Two years ago, we had a similar debate when Richard Lochhead started his campaign to end unfair delivery charges. At that time, I mentioned that Turriff Business Association had told me repeatedly that unfair delivery charges were a major challenge for it—in fact, it was its single biggest issue. That remains the case. Turriff is only 40 miles from Aberdeen, yet the town is classed as Highlands and Islands by many companies that think that being in the Highlands and Islands is an excuse to charge more, despite their websites stating that they have standard delivery charges to the UK. Last time I checked, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands and Islands were still in the UK.

A business in Turriff told me that some UK companies expect a minimum spend of £250 for what is advertised as a free delivery—if the spend is less than that, charges will go through the roof. Even worse, some will refuse to deliver at all unless a minimum of £250 is spent.

In the 2018 debate, I put forward a challenge to retailers: when they award delivery contracts, they must ensure that they will not disadvantage their customers by choosing a carrier that charges more for delivery to “the north”. Having that approach would be in the retailers’ interests, because the reputational damage will not be to the unseen carriers; it will be to the retailers. However, two years on, constituents tell me that unfairness in delivery charges by retailers continues. I used Facebook to ask people to get in touch with me, and I will relay some of what they told me.

Glenys and Phil Neville said that they often had to have materials to renovate their house in Hatton delivered to their son in Newmachar, because Hatton—just 20 miles away—incurred a huge delivery surcharge, or that they had to change from suppliers that would not deliver to the area at all.

Ahead of this debate, Richard Pelling from just outside Oldmeldrum wrote to me about plant and bulb deliveries. He said:

“FedEx zoning is very bad for most of Scotland and certainly for your constituents away from the A90 road corridor to Peterhead. Any delivery address near the A947 or A96 is very often £30 extra. I think the blame lies with the delivery companies and not the actual suppliers, but I now have a policy of not doing business with companies that opt to use delivery services that unfairly impose an extra financial burden on us just because of where we live.”

Heather Thomas in New Deer got in touch to complain that The Range—which has a very large store in Aberdeen city—classes the AB53 postcode as remote and slaps a £19.95 surcharge on orders to that postcode.

Pamela Adam, who regularly orders items for Ellon parish church’s kirk centre, often gets items delivered to her home in Aberdeen city because Ellon, which is only 15 miles north of Aberdeen, often has £30 surcharges slapped on to delivery because it is classed as being in the Highlands and Islands—no it’s nae.

I am glad that Gail Ross has brought this issue to the chamber again and I thank her very much. I hope that we do not have to have this debate again in another two years. We need to keep the pressure on and get delivery equity for all our constituents. I urge the many people who got in touch with me to report unfair delivery charges to consumeradvice.scot.

17:04  

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I thank Gail Ross for bringing to the chamber another debate on delivery charges, following the inaugural debate on the same issue back in 2017, which was led by Richard Lochhead. I took part in that debate and in Richard Lochhead’s campaign event in the garden lobby.

Delivery charges are yet another of the many problems that the Highlands and Islands face, and they are continuing to have an impact on local residents and businesses alike. That is especially true as we approach Christmas, which is one of the busiest delivery times of the year, so the debate is timely.

Back when we first debated the issue, I praised the work of my colleague Douglas Ross, who, as the member of Parliament for Moray, led calls for the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster to hold an inquiry into the issue. I am pleased to say that an inquiry duly took place, in 2018. There is involvement from members across the political spectrum, and there is genuine and sincere cross-party support with regard to the sorry plight of the residents and businesses who are affected.

I will read some extracts from the transcript—

Gail Ross

Can Donald Cameron explain why, despite the noble efforts of the MP for Moray, the charges have increased by 11 per cent—up to £40 million—since the last time we debated the issue?

Donald Cameron

I cannot explain the exact reasons for the increase, but I can say that the Scottish Affairs Committee, led by Pete Wishart, took a lot of evidence during its inquiry, including from the major retailers. Some of those retailers have, it must be said, been working to eliminate unfair and discriminatory surcharges. The committee heard from the head of home delivery for Argos, who said that the company believes that it has

“made important steps in improving over the last five years ... with no delivery surcharge across the Highlands and Islands.”

It heard from Amazon’s director of public policy, who said that, under the company’s business model,

“Marketplaces that have a contract with us undertake that they will deliver the same service to every location in the UK.”

The committee also heard from representatives of other major online selling platforms, who said that they try to ensure that their sellers do not apply additional charges.

Some retailers are improving their act, but many others are not. In addition, of course, that is just one section of the market. It is clear from the stories that I receive in my mailbag, and from those that we have heard from members tonight, that there is an on-going problem.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the most recent figures show that rural areas across the UK accounted for one in six online purchases in the UK in 2017 but that customers in those areas pay, on average, 30 per cent more for delivery than those who live elsewhere in the UK. According to figures from the Scottish Parliament information centre, 510,000 Scots were impacted by delivery surcharges in rural areas, with the total amount charged rising from £36.3 million in 2017 to £38 million today. Those are staggering statistics.

I have received several emails from constituents in island communities about some of the charges that they have had to endure. One person said that they wanted to buy some plastic hose connectors that cost just £4.99 but the company that was selling the connectors insisted on applying a £15 delivery charge because the package had to go to the island of Bute.

An island business in my region told me that one of its suppliers had to pass on significant costs, with post and packaging being used as the excuse. The same business told me that it is cheaper for someone who lives on a Scottish island to send a package weighing 30kg to Austria or Switzerland than it is for them to receive a package weighing 10kg from within the UK. That cannot be right.

With that in mind, I welcome the recent efforts that have been made through various initiatives. We have heard about www.consumeradvice.scot, which has provided a new online tool. There is also www.deliverylaw.uk, which Highland Council’s trading standards team helped to develop. Those tools are incredibly useful in helping people to avoid punitive—and, in some cases, illegal—charges. It would be interesting to hear from the minister what the Government can do to raise awareness of those initiatives.

There is a clear recognition that there is much more to do. I commend Gail Ross for keeping the issue in the public eye and raising its profile.

17:09  

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

As we approach the festive season, I congratulate Gail Ross on bringing to the chamber this evening’s appropriate debate on unfair delivery charges, and I congratulate her on the quality of her speech. I also acknowledge the sterling work that Richard Lochhead has carried out on this front for many years. Of course, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer—yes, the one with the very shiny nose—never had to face the grossly unfair delivery charges across Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, when he was delivering parcels to children.

It seems to me that the more that things change, the more they stay the same. In the early 2000s, as the MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, I started to campaign for fair parcel delivery charges after being contacted by constituents and businesses. That took me to the Highland wildlife park in Kincraig, where local media took a picture of me holding up a huge parcel and being eyed up by the even larger bison that was lurking in the background. The park had contacted me because of the excess charges that it was getting at the time. Bison aside, people still have a lot of beef about the issue, and the campaign has run and run over the years, with no real solution.

When people have a choice of companies to order from, many choose to give their custom to those that do not charge rip-off prices. However, as is well known in this chamber, many people—especially those who live on our islands and in the remote rural areas of the mainland—simply do not have that choice.

Nearly two decades later, I still have a mailbag full of letters from unhappy constituents who see no Christmas spirit in rip-off suppliers. However, one of the great achievements of this Parliament has been the introduction of the air discount scheme, which was led by Donald Dewar and was brought in to tackle sky-high flight charges for island and rural dwellers. Europe approved the scheme as aid of a social character. Do we not need new political decision making to protect our vulnerable consumers?

I welcome the new online tool from Advice Direct Scotland to tackle unfair delivery charges, which other members have mentioned. Back when the post office started the penny post, there was the very important principle of the universal service obligation. In other words, irrespective of where in the UK one lived, the penny post was the same price. Do we not need a uniform service obligation for parcel post as well, to cut out the unfair charges that we face in the Highlands and Islands and beyond?

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

I agree with pretty much everything that the member says. Will he also agree that, notwithstanding his point about the obligations of the Royal Mail, a lot of the problems would be solved if the major delivery companies simply agreed to use the Royal Mail in the first place?

David Stewart

I agree with the member.

What about the concept of island proofing? It is our island and super-rural mainland residents, who tend to have some of the lowest incomes and highest vulnerability, who get charged the most. Is there a wider issue about excessive delivery charges being a breach of the European convention on human rights?

Members will be aware of the excellent debate on the subject in Westminster Hall on 2 July, in which Jamie Stone MP quoted Charles Macfarlane, from Lairg, who had given written evidence to a House of Commons committee. Mr Macfarlane had written:

“click ‘Buy’ on a product on the web, put in a Highland postcode, and at a guess about 75% of the time a significant delivery surcharge will be applied, very often even when the product was advertised as ‘free UK delivery’ … Then, to add injury to insult, the overcharged service from such couriers is slow and unreliable—often two or three times slower than sending it by second class post”.

I again congratulate Gail Ross on securing tonight’s debate. The most important Christmas present that we can give to ripped-off consumers is an end to unfair delivery charges that would bring a blush to the cheeks of an Icelandic snowman.

17:13  

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank Gail Ross for securing this important debate. I know that this is not the first time that the issue has been debated in Parliament, but it is the first time that I have had the opportunity to contribute to a debate that has been going on for far too long in island and rural areas.

The Scottish Parliament information centre has revealed that Shetlanders are being charged a staggering £1.27 million more in parcel delivery charges than they would be charged in the rest of the UK. That is an eye-watering sum, given that the population of Shetland is 23,000. As SPICe highlighted, the figure is likely to increase as we do more of our shopping online. My constituents are rightly fed up of being charged over the odds, simply because of where we live and work.

We all like to shop locally whenever we can. Lerwick was recently voted the second most beautiful high street in Scotland, and we know that visitors like small independent local shops. It is important to support small independent businesses, which face serious competition from online retailers, but shopping locally is simply not possible for some people. For people who are elderly or living with a disability, delivery right to the door is an important part of their being able to live independently.

For some people in Shetland, the cost of living is already up to 60 per cent higher than the UK average, so it can be cheaper and more convenient to shop online—that is, if they can get a reliable broadband connection. However, that is another issue for another day. It is often the case that the goods are simply not available to buy in rural communities.

Other members have noted that it is not just individuals who are hit with charges: small businesses in Shetland need to get their products delivered to the isles, too. When businesses pay over the odds for delivery, they pass on the costs to their customers who, when faced with higher prices, turn to online retailers. That is a lose-lose situation for rural economies.

I accept that there are additional costs associated with delivery to the northern isles, but companies and couriers must not get away with excessive charges. A business owner told me this week about an unreasonable surcharge that was more than the cost of the original order. Another constituent contacted me to say that he had been charged double for delivery of marine equipment to Shetland. He also told me that there would be a different story if he was to return the goods, even though the distance would be the same: the delivery charge for sending the goods south is not the same as it is for bringing them north. That tells me that mainland retailers and couriers are not treating us fairly.

I am also aware of companies that continue to let customers pay for next-day delivery to Shetland. Next-day delivery to Shetland is almost impossible, so that is misleading consumers.

So how do we tackle discriminatory delivery charges? We need the Scottish and UK Governments to work closely together to guarantee fairness and transparency for consumers. Progress has been too slow, thus far. We should encourage businesses to consider using Royal Mail services more, instead of using couriers that overcharge.

In the meantime, I encourage anybody who has been charged over the odds to contact their elected representatives, who can take up the case on their behalf.

17:17  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I am grateful to my colleague Gail Ross for bringing the issue to the chamber again, and I thank Citizens Advice Scotland for all the work that it has done on it.

I spoke in Richard Lochhead’s debate on the matter in 2017 and, despite sustained pressure that resulted in some progress from the Scottish Government—rather than from the UK Government, which has responsibility for postal and consumer affairs—there is still a need to discuss the topic four years on, which is unacceptable.

The Scottish Parliament information centre has estimated that, in the past year, the additional cost to Scotland of parcel delivery surcharges was £40,139,000, which is an increase of 11 per cent since 2017. Of that £40 million, £331,000 was borne by Cunninghame North constituents on the isles of Arran and Cumbrae, which is a lot of money to be lost for islands that have a combined population of fewer than 6,000 people.

Bizarrely, being charged extra for deliveries means that it can be cheaper for my constituents in Arran to have their parcel delivered to a collection point in Ardrossan and buy a return ferry ticket to collect it than to have it delivered to their home. The same can be said for my Cumbrae constituents, who have to travel to Largs to collect their parcels. That can hardly be called a delivery.

I first wrote to the UK Government about the issue in 2011. I lodged a motion a few months after that, entitled “Time for a 21st Century Revamp of the Parcel Delivery Service”, which highlighted the fact that rural and island areas are worst affected by our outdated and unjust delivery structures, with many customers facing high surcharges and refusals to deliver by operators. Eight years later, we are in the same boat.

Some people might be tempted by offers of free delivery during this time of giving, but more than 20 per cent of Scots live in areas where parcel surcharges are applied. Ironically, it is people who live in rural and island areas who are most likely to rely on online orders, given the shortage of shopping options and their distance from high streets.

I hope that most of us shop locally where possible, rather than online, thereby helping to sustain local businesses, jobs and communities, but people who live on islands might not have much choice, especially if they live on an island such as Cumbrae, which has a population of only 1,100. What about the people who are unable to undertake a journey to the mainland every time they need something other than basic items? Why should they, in effect, be penalised for online shopping?

The situation is neither practical nor sustainable, especially for island and rural businesses that require frequent deliveries, or for people with limited mobility. One Arran constituent recently faced a £10 delivery surcharge on a folding walking stick that cost just £12.

Since the postal service was fully liberalised by the Labour Government in 2006, the market has been flooded with firms offering low-cost delivery alternatives. Sometimes that low cost is at the expense of good service, and is certainly too often at the expense of fairly priced services.

Delivery surcharges affect not only individuals; I am also concerned about how they impact on businesses and consumers across Scotland. Citizens Advice Scotland says that 23 per cent of those who ordered online were asked to pay an additional delivery surcharge due to their location, which makes it more expensive and difficult to run a business on an island, and serves only to exacerbate problems.

During my five years as convener of the cross-party group on postal services, we raised the issue time and again with the UK Government. Despite Donald Cameron’s heroic efforts—he is the only Tory who has even bothered to show up tonight—I do not think that the UK Government is particularly interested in solving the problem, given the fact that I have, as I said, been chasing it for more than eight years.

I sincerely hope that the high-profile campaign that is being led by Richard Lochhead and others will make a difference, and that the issue will be resolved soon. The Westminster debate on the issue that was mentioned by David Stewart was actually led by Patricia Gibson MP—the matter is being led by the SNP here and in the House of Commons.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government is implementing its fair delivery plan. I support the action that it has taken with the limited powers that it has on raising awareness among retailers of the statement of principles. It is developing a pledge that retailers can sign up to and is exploring how the principles can be more usefully applied to parcel couriers. However, a universal service obligation for parcels—as we have for postal services—would be an excellent way to resolve the matter.

17:21  

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

First, I apologise to the Presiding Officer and to Gail Ross for being late for the debate due to being detained on the phone by a constituent.

There was a time when part of my island constituency had a Paisley postcode. Strange as that might seem, it was for the logical enough reason that the mail plane came from Glasgow airport. We are proud that the Western Isles now has a postcode of its own, but we groan whenever we order something online only to be told that that very postcode makes us liable for extra delivery charges. Sometimes we are even told that the company refuses to deliver at all. I have had the ironic experience of being told that a company will only deliver to the UK.

There is a long tradition in the islands of shopping by catalogue, and more recently online. As others have pointed out there are many good shops in the islands, but in many places shopping options are very limited. In any case, shopping online is expected to account for more than half of all purchases nationally within the next 10 years. Extra delivery charges are, therefore, a social injustice. In the islands, often the very people who are most dependent on shopping in that way are those who cannot afford to make an expedition by car and ferry to use the shops in Inverness or Glasgow, or who do not have a car at all.

While people might—up to a point—accept that problem for very large items, they are unable to do so for smaller items that, as other members have pointed out, could just as easily have been put in the Royal Mail. Of course, sending a Royal Mail parcel to Berneray costs no more than sending one to Bishopbriggs. The heart of the matter seems to be that some national companies that have exclusive contracts with private couriers consequently refuse to use Royal Mail. I understand that, in some cases, companies have even refused to deliver to Perth because they claim that it is remote. Living where I do, I have a very high standard for remoteness, which Perth certainly does not meet. My constituency alone accounts for £1.5 million of the £40 million-worth of extra delivery charges that Scottish customers faced this year. Indeed, the Highlands and Islands accounted for £28 million of that figure.

Of course, frustratingly, the power to regulate mail services is currently reserved to the UK Parliament, which, it must be said, has shown very little interest in addressing such issues. Despite those limits on its powers, the Scottish Government last year launched its “Fairer Deliveries for All: An Action Plan”. I hope that that will develop an interactive data hub to measure the fairness of delivery pricing, improve transparency, celebrate best practice by delivery companies and make it easier for consumers to know and exercise their rights.

The Scottish Government continues—as do many members of this Parliament—to press the UK Government to use its powers to further strengthen consumer protection to ensure fair and transparent delivery charges. However, consumers in northern, rural and island Scotland are asked to pay on average more than 30 per cent more for deliveries than customers elsewhere in the country. That cannot be justified. I hope that the companies involved will now stop trying to do that.

If we want people to live in the Highlands and Islands in the future, we must deal with some of the things that make life difficult, and the issue of delivery charges is one of them.

17:25  

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

I join other members in thanking Gail Ross for lodging the motion for debate. In common with many members in this Parliament, she has worked on the issue for many years. I thank all members for their contributions.

The research that was published by SPICe, to which Gail Ross’s motion refers, is yet more evidence of the problem of unfair delivery charges and the impact on too many communities across our country. That is exemplified by the fact that, in the past year, those charges have increased to £40 million from £38 million the year before. As Gail Ross mentioned, that is an increase of 11 per cent from £36.3 million in 2017, when the figures were first compiled. It is important that we work together to highlight the issues and challenge them. I welcome the efforts of all MSPs who do so on behalf of their constituents.

The Government is similarly committed to doing what we can to eliminate delivery charges in order to protect consumers and, as Beatrice Wishart was right to point out, small businesses.

As members did in their speeches, I acknowledge the work that many organisations such as Trading Standards Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland, Ofcom, the Advertising Standards Authority and the consumer protection partnership are doing in this area. One example of that work is the Delivery Law UK website, which was launched in June 2018 and is hosted by Highland Council’s trading standards department. The website is a one-stop shop that brings together support for consumers and businesses who are seeking advice about misleading delivery charge advertising. Many members mentioned www.consumeradvice.scot, which is also a fantastic resource. The Scottish Government contributes funding towards that.

We heard from members about the impact that the problem has on their constituents. Gail Ross listed many examples. Gillian Martin spoke of the problems that her constituents in Turriff have experienced, despite their close proximity to a major urban centre in the shape of Aberdeen. Donald Cameron cited an example on Bute, where the cost to the consumer was quadrupled. Beatrice Wishart spoke similarly of products being doubled in cost to the consumer by virtue of those delivery charges. Those are clear examples of that disproportionate charging. David Stewart spoke about the impact on vulnerable consumers. Kenneth Gibson and Alasdair Allan spoke clearly, powerfully and tellingly about the impact on those who live in island communities, who are not able to travel as readily and rely on deliveries. Alasdair Allan was right to remind us that this is not a new phenomenon, based on the impact of online retail, but a long-standing reality for island communities.

Richard Lochhead

I thank the minister for all his efforts on the issue. The debate, understandably, is focused on the impact on consumers, but does he recognise that delivery charges are also an issue for small businesses, which are increasingly reliant on e-commerce? Windswept Brewing, which is a brewery in my constituency, was recently quoted £4.35 by one major courier for outward-bound deliveries of its products to elsewhere in the UK; when it revealed its IV postcode, that price increased to £18.50, which is a surcharge that equates to four times the original estimate. The issue is having a big impact on small businesses that want to deliver elsewhere in the UK, and not just on customers who receive goods.

Jamie Hepburn

I absolutely recognise that. There is also a wider consequential impact, because it reduces the ability of businesses to deploy the resource that they have in other areas, such as to sustain and grow employment opportunities. It has that negative impact as well.

Given that Richard Lochhead has intervened, I place on the record my sincere thanks to him for all the work that he has undertaken on the matter. He has driven the agenda in the Scottish Parliament and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for the activity that he has undertaken. As he will know because he invited me, I have visited his constituency to see at a practical level the impact on his constituents, and I will be very willing to return to see that again as necessary.

All the examples that were cited in the debate show the need to act. In that regard, the Government recognises that long-term solutions are needed to reduce the many occasions on which unacceptable charges are being imposed. That is why we developed the action plan that has been mentioned. It commits to a wide range of actions that should benefit consumers, online retailers and parcel delivery companies. We are committed to publishing an annual review that sets out the progress that has been made on each action, and a full update will be published early next year.

The action plan includes concrete actions such as the development of an interactive data hub and parcel deliveries map. Together, the tools will allow consumers and regulators to identify unscrupulous retailers or practices so that they can be better informed.

We will pursue every step that we can take, but it is important that we make it clear that the real power to regulate these matters does not lie in this place but continues to lie with the UK Parliament and the UK Government. During the Westminster Hall debate on delivery charges that took place in July, which David Stewart and Kenny Gibson mentioned, the UK Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Kelly Tolhurst, recognised the work that the Scottish Government is doing in the area—that was nice of her, and I thank her for doing so—but, unfortunately, she said that she is not willing to regulate the parcel delivery market.

Following that debate, I wrote to the UK minister on 8 August, encouraging her to rethink that policy on non-regulation. Unfortunately, when I spoke to her in September, she set out that there is no change to the UK Government position. That is unacceptable. Donald Cameron, in response to Gail Ross, could not explain the 11 per cent increase in delivery charges in two years. I say to him and others that I believe that the UK Government’s unwillingness to better regulate the market is a clear contributor to the issue. There is no lack of willingness to act on the Scottish Government’s part, but the real power still lies in the hands of the UK Government.

We will continue to act. With our action plan and using the consumer advocacy powers that we have to create consumer Scotland, we will continue to put pressure on the UK Government to deliver much-needed fairness in cases where the charging regime discriminates against consumers and our communities in Scotland. We owe it to those individuals and the small businesses that are impacted by the problem to do all that we can, and they can be assured, as can members, that this Government will continue to act and to push the UK Government to do more.

Meeting closed at 17:33.