A step in the right direction, but the housing White Paper is still a missed opportunity says Ben Southwood

In response to the government's housing White Paper released today Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said:

UK housing has needed a shake-up for decades, and although today’s White Paper is a welcome step in the right direction, it might well be remembered as a missed opportunity.
Sajid Javid seems to understand Britain’s housing problems in a way that previous communities secretaries have not. However, many of the bold ideas that had been floated in the past few months have been dropped, presumably because not all his colleagues recognise the scale of the problem.
The government now finally acknowledges that housing demand is local—building housing in Doncaster or Rochdale will not relieve pressure in Cambridge or Bristol. It also understands that density does not have to mean Brutalist tower blocks, and it sees building in popular styles—such as mansion blocks and terraced houses—as one way to overcome local opposition to development.
But ultimately this is not the white paper we were hoping for. Knowing the problems is not the same as solving them, and changing council targets may end up having no appreciable impact on the market as a whole.
Seeing the green belt as a last resort for development is another mistake: much of it is ugly scrap land or intensive farmland with little amenity and high environmental costs. It is also an error to force developers to rapidly build on any sites they have permission for—the only reason they don’t do this already is our strict planning laws, and raising the costs of building further may actually prevent needed developments."
Like many others, we’re disappointed: there’s very little today that tackles the green belt, height restrictions, or perverse incentives that make people oppose development. But it would be a mistake to let that blind us to the steps forward in this, small as they may be.

For further comment or to arrange and interview please email flora@adamsmith.org.


Press Comment: Renationalisation is a complete red herring

In response to the potential renationalisation of Southern Rail, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, Ben Southwood, said:

“Renationalising Southern will not solve its problems: it’s already state-run for all intents and purposes. In fact, if it was still a franchise—as it was up till 2015—the company would likely have bought off the union, whether or not their concerns about drivers are operating doors are valid.
“The whole Southern palava is a bizarre case of everyone pulling the wool over everyone else’s eyes. The system is simply not run in a remotely private fashion, like Virgin on the East and West Coast Mainlines, or First with Great Western. It’s run like Arriva “runs” London buses—that means the government calls the shots and Govia Thameslink Railways simply does everything they ask, including on pricing, staffing, and revenues.
“Once again, renationalisation is a complete red herring - it's essentially already happened."

For further comment or to arrange and interview please contact flora@adamsmith.org.

Press Comment: The congestion charge isn't working - It's time for road pricing

Sam Dumitriu, Head of Projects, in praise of The London Transport Committee's suggestions to scrap the congestion charge and implement road pricing said:

The London Transport Committee are right to say that the congestion charge is 'no longer fit for purpose.
Congestion is costing the capital billions and proper road pricing could change that.
The current congestion charge is too low to meaningfully reduce congestion. Instead, it merely acts as a regressive tax on motorists. And it's too inflexible to nudge motorists into avoiding travel at peak times.
Road pricing means upping the charge during rush-hour and lowering it during the rest of the day. That would ensure delivery vans aren't contributing to sluggish traffic at peak times.
And it works. In London traffic flows on average at a painfully slow 7.2mph. In Singapore (the first country to implement road pricing) it flows at nearly 20mph and that's in rush hour.
London should follow Singapore's lead and bring in proper road-pricing.

For further comment or to request an interview please contact flora@adamsmith.org

Press Comment: Sam Bowman's reaction to May's Brexit speech

Sam Bowman, Executive Director  of the Adam Smith Institute, said:

The Prime Minister struck a welcome and surprisingly balanced tone in her Brexit speech today, emphasising the need for a deep, comprehensive deal with the European Union that removes tariff, regulatory and customs barriers to trade between the UK and the EU. Her preference for a phased withdrawal from the EU gives negotiators time to work out the details in reducing regulatory barriers to trade, and help to facilitate the British economy’s transition to the new arrangements in place.
The ‘global Britain’ angle is good news, too. Britain can be more nimble than the EU at negotiating free trade deals with the world’s largest economies, and we’re delighted that the Prime Minister sees Brexit as a chance to make Britain a world leader in free trade. As she rightly said, trade is not a zero sum game – the more open we are to it with both the EU and the rest of the world, the richer we’ll all be.
Ultimately, it is confirmation that she is looking to get a Brexit deal that can satisfy a majority of both Leavers and Remainers, uniting the country – a point that Mrs May stressed, to her credit. Some will be unhappy that she is not defaulting to WTO rules, some that she is leaving the single market. By striking a middle course between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit options, May will be attacked by die-hard Remainers and Leavers alike. But she should take heart: a good compromise leaves everyone mad.

For further comment or to arrange and interview please contact flora@adamsmith.org. 

ASI voice of reason in light of misleading Oxfam claims

Following the release of Oxfam's latest wealth statistics, Ben Southwood appeared across national and regional media debunking the story. He said:

"It is not the wealth of the world's rich that matters, but the welfare of the world's poor - and this is improving every year. The consumption of the world's poor continues to rise, as does their education, healthcare, and height."

His response was covered across the full spread of national newspapers, including The Daily ExpressThe Evening Standard, Metro, City A.M, The Sun and The Telegraph, as well as national magazines, such as The Spectator and The Week.

Ben was interviewed across BBC World News, Al Jazeera and the Victoria Derbyshire show, as well as being the voice of reason on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Wales, BBC World Service Radio, CNN International, Radio 5 Live and appearing in the hourly news bulletins across every BBC regional station.  

Finally, op-eds from ASI staff appeared in City AM, IB TimesHuffington Post and Verdict and CapX.

Oxfam's wealth statistics are persistently misleading - Ben Southwood comment

In reaction to Oxfam's annual wealth statistics report out this morning, Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, said:

"Each year we are misled by Oxfam's wealth statistics. The data is fine—it comes from Credit Suisse—but the interpretation is not. It is not the wealth of the world's rich that matters, but the welfare of the world's poor, and this is improving every year.
"The fraction of the world's people surviving on less than $2/day has fallen from 69.6% in 1981 to 43% in 2008, and even lower now. The consumption of the world's poor continues to rise, as does their education, healthcare, and height. And remember, the global 1% includes around 5m Brits—most of those with a London house—not just oligarchs and plutocrats.
"Oxfam use Vietnam as a case study, bizarrely failing to mention that economy's incredible growth: income has gone up from around $100 per capita before the 1986 neoliberal reforms to around $2,000 today.
"Inequality is a side-effect of stability, peace, and growth; clamping down on it through foolish wealth taxes risks everybody's living standards."

For further comment or to arrange an interview please contact flora@adamsmith.org

Change Britain's claims about post-Brexit trade deals are "basically junk" says Sam Bowman

Sam Bowman's comments about post-Brexit trade deals featured in The Guardian:

Sam Bowman, the executive director of the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute, wrote in a blogpost that the numbers were “basically junk” and said the heavyweight backers of Vote Leave “can do better than this”.

“The extra exports figures come from using EU projections about the benefits of trade deals with countries and blocs like India, China and Mercosur, and dividing by Britain’s share of extra-EU trade (15%),” he wrote.

“This is fairly misleading, because it assumes that the UK could get the same terms as the EU, which is unlikely, since the UK is a much smaller economic bloc than the EU, so other countries will be less willing to give us what we want to get access to our market. It’s very much back-of-the-fag-packet stuff.”

Tide Effect paper continues to make waves in The Sun

The ASI's Tide Effect paper advocating the legalisation of cannabis in the UK received more coverage in the new year in The Sun online:

A report by the right wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute reveals there are major savings for state coffers if the soft drug was regulated.

Between £750m and £1bn could be earned by the Revenue if it was taxed.

And there would also be significant savings in the criminal justice costs, with 1,363 offenders now in prison for cannabis-related crimes, costing taxpayers £50m a year.

The call is backed by a full spectrum of MPs, including ex-Tory Cabinet minister Peter Lilley, and veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn.

In addition to financial arguments, there has long been a call to legalise the drug to help people with chronic pain and anxiety.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform says tens of thousands of people in UK already break the law to use cannabis for symptom relief.