Mev Brown: It’s no wonder we’ve lost trust

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Who do you trust? I’ve been asking myself that question a lot recently, without much success.

I missed my bus recently and decided to have a quick pint, or two, in a pub on Leith Walk until the next one arrived. While waiting, a customer came to the bar, ordered a pint and stuck his big mitt across the bar, which was full of change.

The barman picked out the right money and rang up the sale. The customer, whom I assumed to have impaired vision, obviously trusted the bar staff.

Since then, on a number of occasions or just in conversation, it is a question I have been asking a lot – commercially speaking, who can you trust? And, the sad fact is: not many.

One recent commentator on TV suggested banker bashing was so common and popular in this country it should be elevated to an Olympic sport. Well, possibly.

Most of us have overdrawn our overdraft at some point, and we all know what follows. A snippy letter and ridiculous bank charges. No wonder there has been a massive growth in the so-called “pay-day” loans with APRs into three or even four figures.

For most people, from what I hear, they are still cheaper than the bank charges.

And heaven forbid some banker should ever think up a mechanism whereby funds can be automatically transferred from your credit card to your current account when you near your overdraft limit. It is not about customer service, its about bank profits.

Anyway, how many UK banks can really lecture anybody about managing money?

These days you have to ask if the banks are above the law. For example, if a confidence trickster were to sell something on your doorstep with no intention of giving you the product or service, that’s fraud, a criminal offence.

But when the banks sold payment protection insurance knowing their customers were not entitled to make a claim that, apparently, was not fraud. That was “mis-selling”.

I remember when I was a lad if you wanted to apply for a loan you put your Sunday best on, shined your shoes and had a meeting with your bank manager. And you knew his name. These days it’s the computers that make the decisions.

What about the utility companies? No, not really. That is why I still have separate providers. If I’m going to get ripped off, I’m not going to give one company the privilege and benefits of ripping me off for both gas AND electricity.

Besides, who can figure out those comparison websites without getting a headache?

On a positive note, I do trust Scottish Water, and their customer service is excellent.

Which is in stark contrast to the experiences of at least one Scot who moved south of the Border. He was surprised to find that his new three-bedroomed house had a water meter. As for the charges themselves, well, the old wartime adage: “Save water and bath with a friend” came to mind.

As for the TV, telephone and broadband providers, I saw a really good deal advertised on TV by my provider. I rang them up keen to save money and was told that deal was only for new customers. So, again, I decided to use multiple providers.

Of course the latest wheeze is to withdraw freephone calls and replace them with a premium rate service so you now pay them to ring them up to complain about their charges.

Let’s not forget the supermarkets. They have a few tricks up their proverbial sleeve. One is based on the length of time it takes the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) to conduct an investigation. Basically, they put out misleading advertising.

In due course the complaints start coming in. The ASA get around to conducting an investigation and in due course they come to a conclusion to ban the ad and contact the offending supermarket. They, in turn, clasp their hands to their mouth in feigned horror and promise to withdraw the offending advertising.

Then roll out the next round of advertising – which may or may not draw public ire.

Another trick is “special deals”. Buy one for £1, or 3 for £5. Apparently, this does work, especially with busy mums with two or three kids in tow. They see the big, brightly coloured splash card with “3 for £5” and automatically think its a good deal.

A variation on this is the “Any three for £5”, the trick is to put a product which is not part of the deal in amongst those that are, so customers always pay the full price.

Sadly, it’s easy to add to this list of market sectors.

The point in all this? People do notice. In fact, it is getting hard for the public not to notice the decline in the moral and ethical standards of big business.

Few would argue that trust is not a corner stone of civil society.

The politicians cannot, should not, indeed must not ignore this issue forever.

If we allow trust to be undermined, it will be at our peril and to our regret.

So, is now the time to start treating corporate crime the same way as ordinary crime? That is to say, jail the offenders.