True to form, the BAA leviathan, which owns and operates seven airports in the UK, is predictably resisting the Competition Commission’s recommendation that it should be broken up, and an element of much needed competition finally injected into the monopoly it has enjoyed since the business was privatised in 1987.
Accusations of ‘flawed’ analysis and other jibes favoured by lobbyists are thrown at the Competition Commission’s 290 page report, but in truth, the Commission’s robust assessment highlights the company’s lacklustre vision with regard to planning capacity, its poor standards of service and its high-handed snubbing of its main customer base: the airlines.
Combined with a score of other criticisms this explains BAA’s abysmally poor position in the Airport Council International league table of airport operator performance. Indeed, perceptions of BAA have sunk so low that the company must win the duffer’s prize for the least favoured business currently operating in the UK.
BAA plc was created as a dominant monopoly by government. And it ranks as probably the foremost monopoly in Britain. No less than 91% of all passengers flying in and out of airports in the South East fly through one of the company’s three airports that encircle the capital, not to mention its 84% share of airport passengers in Scotland. [Cont'd]
Privatization - Reviving the Momentum calls for a new wave of privatizations, which could net the exchequer in excess of £20bn. Given the worsening state of the economy and the increasing tightness of the public finances, the report notes that such an inflow of funds would be very welcome. In addition to the revenues generated for the government, a new wave of privatizations would also deliver significant operational benefits. Previous privatizations have delivered a wide range of improvements, including increased investment, lower prices, greater choice and better service for customers – as well as underpinning billions of pounds worth of economic activity. The leading privatization candidates identified by the report include the Royal Mail, Channel 4, BBC Worldwide, Scottish Water, Northern Ireland Water, Glas Cymru, the National Air Traffic Control System, as well as government stakes in British Energy and the Nuclear industry.
Freedom 101 is a personal refutation by Dr Madsen Pirie of many of the common errors of economic, political and social debate. He has selected 101 of these erroneous assumptions in order to show why they are not correct. Many of them are in daily circulation as if they were truisms. We are told that, 'the world is running out of scarce resources' or that, 'we should protect the poor by fixing the price of essential goods'. The author shows in his pithy style why these and other assumptions are incorrect. Of his selected 101, some are based on errors of fact, some on false arguments, and many of them on a misunderstanding of how economics works. This is a refreshing book, full of sharp insights to help readers clarify their own thoughts and equip them to bring that same clarity to aid the understanding of others in discussion and debate.
The Waste of Nations argues that pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) waste charges are the best way to encourage recycling and to boost profitable waste businesses. However, the report stresses that PAYT must not be used as a 'dustbin tax' and that its introduction must be accompanied by a corresponding fall in council tax. The report also calls for the full liberalization of the refuse collection sector. Such a move would keep prices down and increase customer satisfaction. It would also lead to innovation and encourage refuse collectors to recycle more waste. The final section of the report argues that recycling should be put on a commercial footing. Recycling facilities and providers should be allowed to merge and consolidate, and the free movement and trade of recyclables should be established. This would ensure a market for commercially viable businesses in the long run.
Unfair Trade argues that for all its good intentions, Fairtrade is not fair. Firstly, by guaranteeing certified farmers a minimum price for their goods, it can distort local markets leaving other farmers even worse off. Secondly, only about 10 percent of the premium paid by consumers actually makes it to the producer, which makes it an inefficient way of helping the poor. Most importantly, Fairtrade does little to aid economic development, focusing instead on sustaining farmers in their current state. Although helpful to some in the short term, this holds back mechanization, diversification, and moves up the value chain. And by requiring farmers to form co-operatives, Fairtrade rules reduce opportunities for labourers to get full-time, permanent jobs and can foster corruption. The report also details the range of alternatives available to ethical consumers, which may be better options than Fairtrade.
This briefing argues that the Treasury should embark upon a sustained programme of tax simplification. Firstly, this would let people know their liabilities and assent to them – making clear the duties of citizenship and allowing individuals to feel they are partners with, not servants of, government. Secondly, tax simplification can lead to lower taxes. Lower and simpler taxes stimulate growth by discouraging avoidance and creating greater incentives to industry. The briefing goes on to outline a series of practical reforms that would make simpler taxes a reality.
This paper documents the bewildering and counter-productive range of political initiatives and interference which has wreaked such havoc on our nation's healthcare system.
The paper's proposal is for a distinguished panel of health professionals to be appointed to run the NHS, to allocate its budget, determine its priorities, and operate it according to medical needs rather than political aims. A YouGov poll taken on the subject shows massive popular support for precisely such a proposal, with 69 percent in favour and only 12 percent against.
The NHS budget would be set by Parliament every five years, and up-rated each year in line with inflation. The ASI's YouGov poll showed that this idea, too, enjoys widespread popular support, with 74 percent in favour. The suggestion that "the NHS has become a political football" receives 72 percent backing.
This paper itemizes how recent government acts have compromised or removed many of the legal protections traditionally enjoyed under common law. These include habeas corpus, right to trial by jury, right to remain silent, freedom from double jeopardy, among many others.
It is proposed that a new judicial panel be established, independent of government, to review the effect of recent legislation on long-standing liberties, and to make recommendations as to how the impairment of liberties might be redressed. While the body's recommendations would not have the force of law, it is envisaged that it would be so prestigious that governments would find it impossible to ignore or sideline their pronouncements.
This paper calls for an English Parliament, but in a novel form. Unlike proposals which involve a new layer of representatives, a fresh set of elections, and a new building to house it, the ASI proposal uses existing institutions. Under the ASI plan, following the next general election the MPs representing English constituencies should meet in the Palace of Westminster as the Parliament of England, having equivalent powers over health, education, policing and transport as the Scottish Parliament presently has.
They would elect a First Minister, as the Scots do, who would then put together a cabinet which would govern England in the designated areas of responsibility. The UK Parliament would remain responsible UK-wide matters and would control the various departments in charge of them: security and immigration, foreign affairs, international development, defence, employment and social security, energy, constitutional affairs, and tax and the economy.
A YouGov poll found that those in favour of this proposal outnumbered those against by a margin of two to one.
The ASI's regulation supremos, Keith Boyfield and Tim Ambler, have published a new briefing paper as part of our Regulatory Monitor project, entitled Stemming the growth of UK regulatory agencies.
The ultimate objective is to merge all the existing regulatory agencies into a single Fair Trade Authority, which would be formally responsible to parliament and which would intervene only to ensure free, competitive markets. A great deal of the regulation aimed at protecting the consumer could be left to the courts, while the greater use of market mechanisms, such as mandatory insurance, would serve to improve standards.