Picking Losers

Promoting sciences

The Government has promised £75 million to universities to prevent further closure of chemistry and physics departments. The subjects are vital to the economy but it cannot be economically viable to sustain (such expensive) courses that do not attract enough students. The Government should address the problem at schools to ensure enough students will take up these important subjects.

More on Companies Bill

The Companies Bill passed on the statute book yesterday (08 Nov) and Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, said that this is the end of the road for reform. However, this seems to contradict earlier comments by Margaret Hodge, industry minister. She said that the Bill is a first step in tightening statutory controls on businesses.  More rules to the already bulky law - 1,300 clauses - could not serve the Bill's purpose of deregulation and saving companies £250 million a year.

Gordon and his 8,300 pages of tax law

According to the joint report by the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) British companies have to struggle with 8,300 pages of tax law, behind only India, and  the rulebook has doubled over the last decade. This is a clear sign of Gordon Brown's preference for complexity.

The Chancellor has a tendency for making even the best and seemingly straightforward ideas so complicated that they end up in a huge mess.  Most people who would benfit from these initiatives will be faced with more bureaucracy and complex procedures that many of them will give up fighting the system to gain benefits they are entitled to. The tax credit system cannot go unmentioned in this case.  

Capping regulation, not prices

The EU has confirmed that it will stick to it pledge to cap roaming prices after a survey found that 70% of Europeans want the EU to act to cut the cost of phone calls abroad. European Union Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who put forward the idea, said that "this [high prices] hurts consumers, it hurts European industry and it hurts Europe."

9 to 5 only....

The BBC reports that the EU employment ministers are meeting this week to discuss the EU working hours law. As a EU rule, the current proposals are complicated - set normal hours, overall maximum hours and the option of opting out. If the proposal will be implemented, they will restrict labour markets. Liberal working hours promote economic growth and lowers unemployment. For example, the UK's economy has performed better than the heavily regulated French economy.

Packed with information

The Government begun the trial of its home information packs today although the key industry bodies have withdrawn their support. The trials are run by the home pack providers' trade association and the Government has provided £4 million of public funds as incentives to ensure their success. There is doubt the information encolsed will justify the cost and would meet its objective which is not yet quite clear. 

Turning green

David Miliband dismissed the rumours of increasing green taxes that would affect mainly middle-income families on BBC's Sunday AM (05 November). He said that any green taxes would have to be accommodated to the Government's overall approach to taxes and spending. 

It is clear that action must be taken to tackle climate change and the Government has committed itself to the fight against global warming. However, it has not yet fully revealed its strategy and seems to consider various options. Mr Miliband mentioned the importance of increasing spending on research and development. Would that mean more support to companies that develop technologies that are consistent with the Government's overall approach? But it is often the case that governments choose the least viable candidate and commit funding to failed projects.

Enrol here for workplace hazard course...

The HSE announced today (03 November 2006) the new workplace hazard awareness course and qualifications for young people. According to the the Chief Executive of HSE it is a "great example of how HSE, government and industry can work together to ensure that tomorrow's workforce has a sound basis for understanding the hazards that confront us every day at work."

Cooking (the EEC) with Gas

Some of the easiest carbon savings that could be made are to be found in our houses. Britain's houses are famously inefficient, belching heat (and therefore carbon) into the sky. Though the government believes it can tax people into reducing their consumption of vehicle fuels, cigarettes and tobacco, it does not hold the same view of domestic energy.

Instead, it asks the major energy suppliers (companies like British Gas, Eon, RWE, EdF, Scottish & Southern etc.) to help it reduce domestic energy consumption, in a scheme called the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC). That is asking the wolves to guard the sheep. Does it really think the energy suppliers are going to do their best to get their customers to use less of their products?

Threat to privacy

The Guardian writes on its front page on how personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients' wishes to a central national database which can be accessed by a huge number of NHS staff and from where the information can be made available to police and security services There is also a lack of safeguards once a patient's data is saved to the system.

Picking winners

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)  today announced that the Technology Strategy Board will become independent and it will take over the funding of the £178m Technology Programme next year. The new board will fund industry R&D projects, advise Government and help UK businesses to take up new innovative technologies. The DTI also announce a further £50 million funding for technology and innovation.

Good intentions?

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has revealed that it wants to cut its "conduct of business" rulebook, which covers the advertising and marketing of financial products, and the provision of information and advice to clients, from 700 pages to 370. The news is welcomed, but somehow it has taken the FSA more than five years from its establishment to produce a first proposal for reform.

The costly and prescriptive regulation has had a damaging effect on the financial services industry and it is likely that this will stay so for some years to come. It will take at least a couple of years to implement the new proposals and it is not yet clear if they will actually improve the current situation. The FSA announced it wants to move towards principles-based framework but this could easily leave room for different interpretations and to more confusion as to what and to what extent needs to be applied to individual businesses.

The Companies Bill strikes again

Margaret Hodge, the Minister currently responsible for probably the longest Bill in British history, The Companies Bill, has done it again. With no warning, business is now to be expected to publish details of their supply chain.

What on earth for? Do shareholders need this information to assess the value of the business? Or is this just another exercise to provide ammunition for the opponents of business?

What it will certainly mean is more red tape and bureaucracy for business. No wonder that the government have failed to provide an assessment of the impact of the measu

When does a child become an adult?

David Cameron has suggested reforming the laws on minimum age limits.  In many ways, not before time. It is clearly a nonsense that 17 year olds can own a gun but have to wait to 18 to buy fireworks. But he also says that he would like children who have demonstrated that they are responsible citizens to be allowed to become adults earlier. Uh-oh.  What next?  An adulthood test?  Armies of adulthood assessors?  An Office for Adulthood Entitlement?

More cohesion or less coherence?

So peers have decided that head teachers will be required to promote "community cohesion" and that this will be assessed by inspectors (Guardian).

Schools work best where teachers are left to get on with the business of running schools, not respond to politically correct targets.  In well run schools, with motivated teachers and happy pupils, "community cohesion" happens automatically.

Stern Measures

The eagerly awaited Stern Review conveys a clear message – climate change is fundamentally altering the planet; the risks of inaction are high; and time is running out. The Guardian reports that shortly after the launch of the report, David Miliband announced in the Commons that the Government will legislate in the next session to reduce carbon emissions. Reducing emissions is necessary, but it cannot be done by increasing complex Government regulation and incentives.

The England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative

The what? You really couldn't make it up. According to a Government press release today, there are apparently there are now thirty-nine dedicated "Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers". I'm sure they are doing a grand job, preventing pesticides harming drinking water and that farmers are really grateful for the "local advice and technical support" they are getting.

Or put it another way, I'm sure farmers will see this as yet more interference by busy bodies trying to tell them how to run a farm effectively. Has anyone actually asked them if they welcome it?

What is John Prescott For?

So John Prescott has been sent on a "pointless mission" to represent Britain in the Far East (Telegraph, 25th October).

The claimed cost of £10,000 is the least of our worries. We should be worrying more about what he is up to while he is there. The Far East is important for all kinds of strategic reasons. But is John Prescott really the person to represent us there? Or is it more a case of him having to justify his existence by finding things for himself to do.

John Prescott is an excellent example in microcosm of the problem with big government generally - they need to be able to justify their existence by doing things. It would not be so bad if what they did was simply irrelevant. The real problem is that most of what thge Government does is deeply damaging.