Utility Gains

This paper assesses the various utility sales of telecoms, gas, water and electricity companies during the 1980’s and 1990’s and looks at how government, shareholders and customers fared since the privatisation process. The paper argues that the following benefits occurred for each stakeholder:

For the government – various general benefits accrued, such as a pronounced surge in investment. It benefited financially, both from one-off sales proceeds and from ongoing sizeable Corporation Tax receipts.

For shareholders, like pension funds, have generally done very well, with many privatizations – particularly the 12 RECs – heavily outperforming the FTSE 100. Privatized water stocks, too, have powered ahead. There are a few notable exceptions to this, such as Railtrack, British Energy and British Telecom.

For utility customers the financial benefits have been less tangible – in a period of massively rising wholesale prices there has been little to pass on. But investment has been much higher and much-needed improvements in customer service have been developed. Telecoms prices have actually fallen materially, while domestic gas, water and electricity prices have all risen sharply in real terms. However, domestic energy prices have risen mainly due to much higher wholesale gas costs – not because of private sector ownership.

The paper finds investment in utilities is now much higher than before privatization, especially in the electricity distribution and water sectors. It also argues that the privatisation of utilities also created an innovation spike, specifically in the telecoms sector.


Using what we know to solve what we don’t

Every two days we generate an equivalent amount of data to that produced by the whole of human history up to 2003. Such a scale of data is almost daunting, with much, if not most of it, recorded consistently and ubiquitously through sensors embedded into the tools of our everyday: mobile phones, tablets, barcodes and travel passes. As global mobile phone penetration reached 95.5% in 2014, and 90% for developing nations, this advancing use of mobile phones is providing researchers with a veritable feast of data from users. The data are collected not only directly through the sensors in smartphones, (GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, microphone, camera and Bluetooth) but also indirectly through the cellular infrastructure, creating enormous streams of ‘big’ datasets. (more…)

Time for Time Limits

  • The UK’s welfare system is in a parlous state, beset by ineffective policies, a culture of dependency, and an ever-increasing price tag. While well-intentioned, recent reforms such as Universal Credit have done little to change this. We must seek more radical reforms to shore up the UK’s welfare system and boost employment.
  • This in mind, the UK should adopt a 5 year time limit on all out-of-work benefits, with payments withdrawn incrementally to avoid a ‘cliff at the end of the period’.
  • We can look to President Clinton’s reforms of the 1990s for evidence of time limits’ effectiveness. Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) saw a 6–7% fall in unemployment counts, a decrease in benefits caseloads by 96%, an unprecedented increase in female employment, and a reduction in government spending by an estimated $54.2 billion between 1996 and 2002.
  • While they are no panacea, combined with investment in re-training and up-skilling, time limits on welfare would be a significant step towards fixing the UK’s distortional welfare system and breaking the cycle of learned victimhood.


Trial & Error & The Idea of Progress

This book is an analysis of progress – its meaning, its constituent elements, the conditions that favour it, and the methods people use to achieve it. Its central theme is that progress implies a closer approach to nominated goals; there must be a target to make progress towards. Alternative attempts to achieve progress are tested against each other, and new attempts are tested against old ones. The ones which prove better than their rivals at achieving progress towards chosen goals are retained, and inferior alternatives are discarded. (more…)

EUtopian Regulation

David Cameron has made the reduction of red tape a cornerstone for EU reform. As we know, there will be no treaty reforms before 2017, the best we can expect is promises albeit firm ones. Brussels may well agree to deregulation as incoming Commission Presidents have done so often enough before: but can we believe such promises?  Whatever is bound can be unbound or, more likely, just overtaken by events. (more…)