VICTIMS of unfair delivery surcharges are being offered little more than "tea and sympathy" by government ministers, a frustrated Ross-shire MP insists.
Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has demanded stronger action from Westminster amid continuing calls for an end to rip-off charges that see Ross-shire residents and other Highlanders asked to stump up extra for delivery of goods – when other parts of the mainland get the same service free.
And he has hit out at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after receiving an update on efforts to tackle the problem that he argues has little substance.
"This is little better than tea and sympathy," he said. "If you read the letter carefully you will see that the government does recognise that we often pay extra to have goods delivered to the Highlands. But the trouble is that also in the letter is nothing but stuff about helping us recognise the problem rather than actually taking steps to do something about it.
"What’s happening here is that my constituents are being victimised, and though the government wrings its hands in grief, it sadly ducks taking any positive action to sort it out.
"In short this letter is not good enough by any means and I shall continue to raise the matter in the Chamber of the House of Commons until a basic wrong is righted."
In the letter, Andrew Griffiths, the minister for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, said that a group of enforcement authorities, consumer groups and government departments had been exploring the issue and found that many of the complaints stemmed from small and medium businesses, rather than larger national or international firms.
He added that a "dedicated parcel surcharging website" had been launched late last month to provide advice for customers and businesses – and make it easier for the public to make a complaint – and that there had been revised guidance for businesses.
"Information collected from complaints registered through the website will help to inform future action," he said.
The minister said the Advertising Standards Agency had also issued 150 enforcement notices to sites over inaccurate or misleading free delivery claims.
He added: "Improving the transparency and accuracy of parcel surcharges will improve competition between online retailers by ensuring consumers can make informed decisions, helping to reduce costs.
"This package of co-ordinated action will therefore lead to tangible improvements for consumers concerned about parcel surcharging."
He said that "a good deal of progress has been made" but recognised that "further work" was still needed and the government would keep the issue "under review".
"The complaint information provided through the new website will help to better monitor concerns and inform what appropriate action is required in the future."
But Mr Stone was critical of a "lack" of action by government and what he believes is its wait-and-see approach to the problem.