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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Under pressure

Written by Oliver Rockley | Monday 15 September 2008

Previous blogs have highlighted concern over “immoral, incoherent and quite possibly illegal" NHS rules denying patients care if they choose to top-up their treatment privately.  Now, the health think-tank, the King’s Fund, has said that the NHS should no longer be able to discriminate in such a way.

Currently, patients may lose the right to free NHS care if they pay privately for drugs rejected by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as not cost-effective.  This seems highly inconsistent when people are able to top-up dental and optical treatment, as well as additional non-clinical treatment such as private rooms, but are denied this option when it comes to the prolonging their life.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the King’s Fund, said that: "The current practice on top-ups, which prohibits people from privately purchasing drugs not available on the health service while continuing a course of NHS care, is untenable."

Some of the drugs concerned are not available on the NHS as they are only effective for some patients.  The King’s Fund said that if the treatment is effective for the patient, then after a certain time period, particularly if the patient is financially unable to continue using the drug, the NHS should bare the cost.

Up until recently, ministers have said that top-up treatment would cause a two-tier health system, however, after recent high-profile cases of cancer patients being denied life prolonging drugs, they have agreed to reconsider the issue.  Professor Sir Mike Richards, cancer expert, is currently preparing a report for ministers reviewing top-up policy that is likely to be ready in the next month.

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Goodbye, ASI

Written by Oliver Rockley | Sunday 14 September 2008

I am coming to the end of my two week stint at the Adam Smith Institute, and I must say that it has been a very interesting, thought provoking, and enjoyable experience. I have learnt a great deal, and I think subconsciously, I have learnt more than I can put my finger on, just through being in this creative and intellectual atmosphere.

After the hurdle of writing my first blog, I enjoyed contributing and it allowed me to concentrate on issues from a libertarian point-of-view. My next challenge will be fighting the free-market corner in my last year at Sussex University, which is largely dominated by more…left-wing opinions.

Thank you for having me, it has been a great experience and a pleasure working with you.

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All roads lead to your pocket

Written by Oliver Rockley | Saturday 13 September 2008

In a new drive to instil another drop of confidence in his government, Gordon Brown has this week released plans for a £1 billion energy relief programme, but once again he may have missed the spot. 

The plan will force energy companies to contribute £910 million over the next three years to help pensioners and poor households cope with rising energy costs and become more energy efficient. The scheme includes free and or half price insulation, a freeze on energy bills, and an increase in cold weather payments from £8.50 to £25 a week.

Mr Brown believes that the plan could save families £400 a year and the measures were a “better alternative" to a windfall tax, insists that he does not “expect that they will pass on these prices to consumers."

Despite these rather optimistic comments, experts in the industry believe that, as would be the case with a windfall tax, the cost incurred by energy companies will be passed onto the consumer – particularly middle class households. Dieter Helm – Professor of Energy Policy at New College, Oxford, and a former Downing Street adviser – described it as, “completely naïve" to think that the cost would not be passed onto consumers through higher bills.

David Porter, CEO of the Association of Electricity Producers, which includes six of the biggest energy companies operating in the UK, commented that, “Whenever people impose costs on an industry, the bill to some extent always ends up with the customer."

As it stands, companies are already required to pay money into a fund, which is distributed to help consumers reduce their bills. The fund, called the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (Cert), is paid for by the energy companies by adding a premium to domestic energy bills, currently costing households about £35 per year.  £560 million will be taken from Cert, which is only around 60% of the £910 million bill, leaving the additional 40% to be paid by households via further increased energy premiums.

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Always Coca-Cola

Written by Oliver Rockley | Thursday 11 September 2008

Soft-drink giants Coca-Cola, who recently agreed to pay $2.5 billion for China’s fruit juice company, Huiyuan Juice, must now take the deal to the country’s competition authorities and overcome the regulatory obstructions. This case will draw a great deal of attention as it is potentially the largest foreign acquisition of a Chinese company ever to take place, and the first case to be filed under China’s new anti-trust laws. 

Coca-Cola clearly want to establish their brand in China’s quickly growing soft drink industry, and Huiyuan Juice currently has 43% of the juice market, which would be a step in the right direction. Furthermore, the high levels of economic growth in China give potential increases in income and health awareness; as a result, the juice market grew by 15% last year and is on course to match that rate this year.

While some are unhappy with the takeover, and fear Coca-Cola’s global dominance, the potential gains for the Chinese economy are high. The deal should bring increases in investment, as well as much needed jobs to China’s immense population. Coca-Cola’s best practice expertise will improve efficiency and quality in the industry at large, driving the market forward through healthy competition.

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Google eyed

Written by Oliver Rockley | Saturday 06 September 2008

This week Google launched their new web browser, Google Chrome. There have been rumours of such a project for some time, though they have only recently come to fruition. The Browser aims to rival Microsoft’s browser Internet Explorer, which currently dominates around 75 percent of the market. Google have already tried to battle with Internet Explorer more indirectly by supporting the open-source browser Mozilla Firefox, however, fears that Microsoft may try to alter their software so that Google products run less efficiently have pushed them to develop their own browser. 

Google Chrome will have built in applications such as a word processor and spreadsheet facilities, which run on a “cloud" platform, rather than an operating system such as windows. Microsoft have been worried about such a transition away traditional systems for some time, ending up in court in the 1990’s when they took anti-competitive action against Netscape whom they feared may develop this type of product. 

Despite its supposed intuitive nature and comparatively higher speeds, there are still some significant problems with Google Chrome’s design which have been highlighted – particularly in the area of privacy. Firstly, while there is an option to hide all traces of sites you might not be so keen to let others know you have visited, there is also an option to view all saved passwords without a master password. In an age where identity theft and fraud are rife, this could potentially be very dangerous, particularly for those co-ordinating finances and other sensitive information via their computer. Secondly, according to the terms of service Google can use any work published through Google Chrome without paying for the pleasure - posing a massive problem for people contributing to blogs or other such sites.

While this is only the first version of Google’s browser, Microsoft are also set to bring out a new browser. According to Microsoft, Internet Explorer 8 will give the user more internet preferences and in particular give them more control over their personal data, perhaps keeping the edge on Google’s newest venture.

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How to sell your house

Written by Oliver Rockley | Friday 05 September 2008

In 2007, owners of a house in Bristol, which had acted as a canvas for the infamous graffiti artist Banksy, became frustrated when all potential buyers of their home seemed determined to get rid of the large mural on its side. 

As well as being an original Bansky piece, the mural was significant as it was one of his earlier, free hand works – in contrast to the stencil style his is renowned for.  In order to preserve the piece, the owners decided to change their strategy and bypass the housing market altogether, enlisting the help of the Red Propeller art gallery in Devon, to sell the house as a piece of art…with a free house attached.  

The price of houses in the area ranged from around £160,000 to £200,000, but the gallery hoped sell the artwork for a sum far in excess of these figures.  The piece attracted much celebrity interest according to the gallery but, unfortunately, the piece was vandalised before it could be sold.  Despite this, the gallery and owners are working to restore the piece and have even tried to summon help from the illusive artist himself.

A similar case arose when the owners of a mobile home worth £1000 were able to put it up for auction at £500,000.  They had had the good fortune of bumping into Banksy at Glastonbury Festival a decade earlier and had donated their caravan to act as yet another creative canvas for the artist. 

With the housing market in its current state, and with the constant hassle caused by estate agents, perhaps it now seems more attractive to allow your property to be defaced by an up-and-coming vandal and find yourself an art dealer.

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