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Rejoice rejoice

By Editor
February 24th, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Comments Off on Rejoice rejoice | Posted in Government lobbying government

Full marks to Eric Pickles. The Department for Communities and Local Government yesterday announced that it is to crack down on on wasteful spending of government lobbying government.


“Using taxpayers’ funds to lobby government wastes public money and undermines transparency.”

“The Department for Communities and Local Government is also cracking down on taxpayer funded lobby by other organisations. The Institute of Economic Affairs has undertaken extensive research on ‘sock puppets’ – those pressure groups and charities receiving public money that then use it to lobby government and Parliament for more money and regulation. “

“The department is setting Whitehall an example by taking the additional step of amending its grant agreements to include a new anti-lobbying, anti-sock puppet clause. Simple and effective, it will bring about an end to this practice and make sure that taxpayers’ money is being spent on those things that make a real difference to the lives of hard-working families.”

We particularly welcome this statement…

“It ensures that payments do not support activity that could influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties. It applies to any activity that could influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants or legislative or regulatory action.”

We call this a win.

You can read the full DCLG statement here.

You can download the IEA paper “The Sock Doctrine: What can be done about state-funded political activism” here .


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Public health and public opinion

By Editor
February 20th, 2015 at 11:58 am | Comments Off on Public health and public opinion | Posted in health

Interesting insight into British attitudes to public health policies going into 2015. Here’s a taster…

When asked explicitly whether they believe in personal responsibility or government intervention,  the British public strongly supports personal responsibility over ‘nanny state’ regulation.

70% agreed “Individuals should be responsible for their own lifestyle choices and the government should not interfere”.

Those opposing the ‘regulating and taxing high-calorie food and drink’ outnumber supporters by nearly 2 to 1 and there appears to be little appetite for further intervention in lifestyles. Only 2 in every 10 people thought that “there should be more government regulation to stop people making unhealthy lifestyle choices”.

Tellingly Lib Dem voters were almost always more likely to support government intervention and UKIP voters were almost always the most resistant. Lib Dem voters were consistently most likely to believe that taxes on cigarettes, air travel and all forms of alcohol were too low whereas UKIP voters were consistently the most likely to believe that these taxes were too high.

However, even amongst Lib Dem voters, higher taxes and financial incentives were supported by only a minority. And interestingly, half of all Lib Dem voters actually support the owners of pubs and private members clubs being allowed to have a private room for people to smoke in if they want to.

The findings come from a  ComRes Poll commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The fieldwork for the poll was carried out between 9th and 14th December 2014 with a representative sample of 4,135 adult British residents and provides interesting food for thought as we head toward May 7th… find out more here.

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The Lib Dems: In search of new voters (part 2)

By Angela Harbutt
October 13th, 2011 at 4:38 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats

A couple of weeks ago I suggested here on this blog that the Lib Dems were the natural party of small business (The Lib Dems: In search of new voters…) and that with about 23million people working in small and medium sized businesses, they were a pretty attractive voting sector to pursue.

A study out today provides us with another damn good reason why the Lib Dems really should think about its relationship with small businesses – they disproportionately employ vulnerable people – making them both economically and socially important.

The IEA report Self-employment, Small Firms and Enterprise, by Peter Urwin, says that

…small businesses provide vital opportunities for those who often struggle to find work in the rest of the labour market – those with no or few qualifications, immigrants, women with domestic responsibilities and those with poor English language skills. There is therefore not only an important economic, but also a social dimension to ensure the government is not holding back this sector.

…11% of employees of small firms had no qualifications, compared with 4% of employees of large firms.

…Only 8% of people working in large companies had a language problem, whereas in companies with less than ten employees this is 18%.”

That’s pretty compelling stuff .

So what to do ?

Well , consider the IEA’s conclusions….

At a time when Britain’s economy requires thriving businesses, this research shows that complex regulation such as employment protection legislation and costs such as National Insurance prevent the self-employed from taking on employees.

There is therefore an increasing tendency for people to be self-employed without employees or to work for larger companies that are better able to cope with the costs of regulation. In short, there are too many barriers preventing people from moving from self-employment to becoming employers of small numbers of people and this affects vulnerable groups in the labour market.”

My advice to the policy makers within the Liberal Democrats is not only take note of the importance of small business. But to to embrace the IEA’s recommendations to help support this important sector.

I won’t go into all the  IEA’s recommendations here (go read for yourself) but essentially it argues for government  to lift the regulatory burden on businesses that is currently preventing many self-employed people from developing their businesses and employing people.

All of this would not only demonstrate the Liberal Democrat’s commitment to” the small and the local” (see previous post) – but is also a real strategy for growth and employment.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

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Media failure that is truly shocking

By Angela Harbutt
July 15th, 2011 at 6:00 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in Debt, Media

A new publication was launched earlier this week “Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes: Big steps to a smaller state“,  calling for a radical downsizing of the public sector and giving an indication of the corresponding tax cuts that would be made possible as a result. The media coverage was, as you might expect, mixed. The Guardian headline read “Thinktank advocates abolition of the NHS and slashing overseas aid”  whereas the Daily Mail had a somewhat different take on the issue “You call those ‘savage cuts’? Actually they are dangerously pathetic” . No surprise on the line taken by either of those papers – no change there then.

But the headlines that actually caught my eye – and caused a huge intake of breath – both came from City AM  –  “Public in dark on UK debt” and the editorial “Media is failing public in many ways” . The focus of these two articles was not on the “Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes” publication per se but on the COMRES/IEA survey that ran alongside this story.

That survey suggests a terrifying level of misunderstanding/ignorance about the state of Britain’s finances. One of the most astonishing facts coming out of the survey was that an alarming 70% of those asked believed the government is cutting £350bn from the debt over the course of the parliament – fewer than one in ten people realised that the government is actually adding hundreds of billions of pounds to the national debt.

This is a startling revelation. We are not talking about people “getting the gist” ..but being out by a billion or so. If this survey is correct, then we are talking about the vast majority of the British electorate having completely the wrong idea about where we are financially and what we still have to face.  

How can the public determine which spending policies are right for the country if they are blind to the actual state of the finances? How can democracy be expected to operate when those voting are so ignorant of so many of the essential facts?

Alistair Heath suggests that it is the media must take much of the blame. And he is almost certainly correct. Coverage of the spending cuts has been, if anything excessive. We have all enjoyed ding-dong after ding-dong with politicians facing one another, special interest groups and indeed highly paid journalists to discuss Britain’s finances.

And yet the sum total of all that “shouty television” is a population which thinks this government is doing the precise opposite of what it is actually doing. That is truly shocking.

If the state of affairs is truly as the COMRES/IEA poll suggests, the BBC, whose remit is to educate and inform, must be sitting very uncomfortably today. Not only are we, the people, paying for the BBC to educate and inform us – but BBC is the dominant news provider in the UK. (Figures below from Conservative Home – click here for information on BBC’s dominance of other media).

The BBC must surely move, and move fast, to assuage our fears concerning the ignorance of the nation or, if COMRES/IEA survey is correct, to put this woeful state of affairs to rights. If it does, then the IEA may well  “extend the frontiers of the very limited debate we have on public expenditure” in more fundamental ways than even it may have intended.

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Fair Trade without the Froth

By Angela Harbutt
November 4th, 2010 at 3:51 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in International Development

Today, the Institute of Economic Affairs has released a new research paper Fair Trade without the Froth: A Dispassionate Economic Analysis of “Fair Trade” by Sushil Mohan.

It concludes that claims by the Fair Trade movement are seriously exaggerated. The IEA says that “.. It is likely that producers end up with only a small fraction of the extra margin consumers pay , that Fair Trade doesn’t benefit the poorest producers due to heavy administration requirements and fees involved” and that “Fair Trade does not focus on the poorest countries”.

We agree with all those sentiments.

Buying Fair Trade eases the middle class conscience and little more.

If you really want to help the developing world, fight loud and hard for the removal of trade barriers.

Back in summer of 2009 a guest contibutor to Liberal Vision – Franklin Cudjoe – made many of the points the IEA makes today and having re-read his post this morning I thought it worthy of a second outing…. so here it is….

GUEST POST for Liberal Vision by Franklin Cudjoe 10th July 2009


In the New Statesman’s “Observations on Fairtrade” I was quoted as saying that free trade, not Fairtrade, is the key to developing countries like my own. Here are a few reasons why this is so.

Most of the Fairtrade premium charged by supermarkets does not make it to the poor in developing countries. It has been estimated that only ten per cent filters down, most of it consumed by Western retailers. No wonder that many people suspect that supermarkets are granting monopolies to their own-brand Fairtrade-approved goods for the sake of their own profits. They convince consumers that they are morally obliged to buy Fairtrade stock, offer no alternative, then pocket the difference.

But more importantly, even the amounts that do trickle down will not help economies to develop. Any subsidies provide perverse incentives that can delay development. Increasing prices artificially causes an increase in supply which results in too much produce being grown. As Fairtrade growers only pass on about 20 per cent of their stock to the Fairtrade scheme, the results are quite dangerous, and can result in the market price actually coming down (due to surpluses).

Instead, people in less developed countries need to be able to follow price signals and adapt to changing demands – both from our own markets and those in the West.

Sadly both of these markets are blocked from us by trade barriers. Your governments are partially to blame for this – but even more culpable are our own self-interested politicians.

Trade barriers between African countries are an extreme impediment to our economic development. Shipping a car from Japan to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, costs $1,500 – yet shipping the same car from Abidjan to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, costs over three times as much – $5,000!

According to the World Bank, removing regional trade barriers would earn Africa an extra $1.2bn a year.

So what can concerned people in wealthier countries do to help? For a start, you can lobby your governments to stop setting a bad example by imposing trade barriers themselves. Many people in poor countries say “rich governments protect their industries, why shouldn’t we?”. The result is that we all lose – but poor countries suffer the most.

We now have a global trade war, arguably prompted by President Obama’s “Buy American” policies in the USA. Ministers at the G8 preach free trade while building up barriers back at home.

Buying Fairtrade is a feel-good scam. It does not help. Those who really want to help should urge their politicians and the G8 to bring down trade barriers – and make a lot of noise about it.

This post was first published on Liberal Vision 10th July 2009. Franklin Cudjoe is the founder and Executive Director of IMANI Center for Policy & Education, a think tank based in Ghana. His work has been cited in House of Commons debates on aid and development in Africa.

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