Date: Wednesday 21 April 2010
Time: 12:45pm - 02:15pm
Title: Water Regulation – Ofwat’s Strategic Approach
Philip Fletcher, Chairman of the water regulator Ofwat, was our guestat a Power Lunch in Westminster yesterday, and chose as his theme to talk about Ofwat's strategic view of the water industry.
There are certainly some big challenges. £80 billion of new investment since privatization has led to a third less loss from leakages and burst pipes, and higher standards which are very nearly 100% effective. But there are mounting problems in terms of the resource itself. A rapidly growing population, particularly in the South East of England, has led to over-abstraction of water – while some places, Wales and the North-West, for example, have the stuff in abundance. If the climate change view is correct, we could be facing more floods, but also more droughts too, putting even more pressure on some places. But we still have ten regional (regulated) monopolies who have very little incentive to move water from where it is plentiful to a neighbouring region where it is scarce. This strikes me as an obvious job for markets. in the Western United States, where water resources are scarce and dry years make them even scarcer, markets have sprung up to shift the stuff to where it is most urgently needed. Why not here too? We need to put a price on water itself – a price to create market signals to shift the raw resource around. At present, water firms pay for abstraction licences, but the price is related more to the administrative costs than any notion of scarcity.
To its credit, Ofwat has been thinking about getting more market thinking into the water business, as evidenced in its report on sustainability last month. But inevitably there are political issues. Market economists might say that people in areas of scarcity should simply pay higher bills, and people in areas of abundance pay less. But there are many poor families in the shortage areas, and many of those are large families who use a lot of water. So there are social issues to deal with. And people still seem to assume that water should be free because it falls out of the sky – ignoring all the treatment and delivery and wastewater removal and treatment costs – so, like road pricing, they don't relish the thought of paying, or paying more, for something that they have long regarded as free. If the pressures of population, climate and the rest are real, though, the long-term future must be obvious. We need more markets in water.
Date: Tuesday 6 April 2010
Time: 06:00pm - 08:00pm
Simon Clark is director of the smokers’ lobby group Forest and founder of The Free Society. Born in London, he was educated at Madras College, St Andrews, and Aberdeen University. He returned to London for his first job - in public relations.
In 1983 he launched a national student magazine called Campus; in 1984 he worked, briefly, for a Frankfurt-based human rights group; and from 1985-1990 he was director of the Media Monitoring Unit, a London-based research group founded by a former Labour minister, Lord Chalfont, and Dr Julian Lewis, who is now Conservative MP for New Forest West.
As a freelance journalist, Simon edited a string of in-house magazines, the most recent of which was The Politico for Politico’s Bookshop in Westminster.
Simon has been director of Forest since January 1999. He is Forest’s principal spokesman and appears regularly on radio and television defending the poor beleaguered smoker.
Date: Tuesday 23 March 2010
Time: 12:45pm - 02:15pm
Title: Inspecting Schools: Promoting Excellence
Miriam Rosen, the Executive Director of Ofsted was our Power Lunch guest this week. She outlined the schools regulator's way of working, which involves a lighter touch for good and outstanding schools and more emphasis on the less satisfactory ones.
There are 1001 things one can try in order to improve education – including spending hundreds of millions on new buildings, as Gordon brown has done. Sure, kids have to be treated as individuals and not statistics (which the obsession with exam results does not help either), and need a degree of discipline in order to learn anything. What seems to come out from Rosen's experience, though, is that what really makes the difference in education is good teachers and good teachers.
That chimes in with the work of James Tooley, who can point to countless excellent schools in Africa and India which do not even have buildings, with the teaching taking place under the shade of a tree. But if it's good teaching, it works – so much so that even the poorest parents are willing to pay for it.
But talent costs money. Many excellent teachers give up because they simply can't afford to live in some of the more affluent areas; and who wants to go to a failing school in a tough part of town unless they are decently rewarded? Naturally, the problem is the politicisation of education, in which remuneration is seen as an exercise in promoting equality rather than in steering talent to where it is needed (and telling non-talent that it isn't wanted, frankly). Until schools manage their own budgets and decide their own pay scales, I can't see things improving.
Date: Wednesday 10 March 2010
Time: 06:30pm - 08:30pm
Speakers: Dr Eamonn Butler & Peter Oborne
Location: The Garden Room, St Stephen's Club, 34 Queen Anne's Gate, London, SW1H 9AB
The UK is in an appalling state. The effects of the great recession lumber on. Public debt, public services and public pensions are bloated after a decade of ill-placed optimism. The country is burdened by regulations and laws that have undermined basic freedoms. What needs to be done to remake Britain as a first-rate country? In The Alternative Manifesto, Dr Eamonn Butler interviews the best political thinkers in the UK including the heads of all the leading think-tanks to create a twelve-step plan to rescue the UK from its government's long-term addictions. He tackles the most crucial areas from the economy and politicians, to regulation and taxes with detailed solutions that can easily be achieved over the next Parliament. Drawing on the ideas of some of the brightest people in Britain, Eamonn Butler puts forward a comprehensive programme to cut government back to a healthy size. The twelve steps will stop the UK's decay, before it becomes terminal.
More info: http://tinyurl.com/altmanifesto