From Institute of Economic Affairs <[email protected]>
Subject Unfit for purpose?
Date April 4, 2021 7:59 AM
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* iN THE MEDIA (#Media)
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This week my latest report ([link removed]) in the series 'Who regulates the regulators?' was published. It dives into the work of the Financial Ombudsman Service (or "FOS"). The research found that this helpful-sounding body for resolving consumer disputes with banks and financial services providers has become a costly and distortive presence in that market. Its wide discretion in awarding financial compensation to consumers has led to uncertainty which smaller firms, and those providing service to less affluent consumers, are less able to cope with.

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The way it makes decisions based on 'fairness' and stresses the avoidance of detriment is in danger of infantilising consumers. This also plays into the hands of claims management companies and opportunistic complainers, one reason why the FOS struggles with huge backlogs of cases and ever increasing costs.

As I discussed with IEA Director General Mark Littlewood on Wednesday's Live with Littlewood ([link removed]) , the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), under its objective of promoting competition, should be taking more of an interest in this structural issue. The objective of financial regulation is not to remove all risk from consumers, who are still expected to take responsibility for their decisions. But many of the FOS's decisions seem to do exactly that.

The Chief Ombudsman Caroline Wayman, who had been in post for seven years, resigned at the beginning of March. Her successor has a challenge on their hands, not just to address costs and backlogs, but to address the transparency deficit and other procedural defects that seem to be damaging markets from payday loans to financial advice. The FCA and Treasury policymakers should also be taking more of an interest in protecting consumers as a whole, who depend on a competitive market underpinned by the rule of law, not just those who feel unfairly treated and are awarded redress, at the expense of legal certainty.

Victoria Hewson
Head of Regulatory Affairs, Institute of Economic Affairs

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The announcement of a new Office for Health Promotion to 'lead national efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation by tackling obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity' was greeted with extremely cautious optimism by IEA Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon.

In an opinion piece for The Telegraph ([link removed]) , Christopher wrote:

"There is a chance that the Office for Health Promotion will abandon the failed policies of the past and rely on persuasion rather than force. There is a chance that it will cut out the dead wood and employ some smart people from a range of disciplines. There is a chance that it will become an effective and efficient operation rather than another self-serving, tax-sponging bureaucracy.

"It is all very unlikely, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. The decisions made by government in the coming weeks will be crucial. Does it want an Office for Health Promotion or Public Health England Mark II?"

Ministers are also reportedly facing fierce resistance to the online "junk food" ad ban proposals that were put out to consultation before Christmas. Covering the story, the Daily Mail quoted Christopher who, back in November, warned that "it is an ill-considered policy designed by fanatics". Read the piece here ([link removed]) .

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If you need a reminder of PHE's catalogue of failures during the Covid-19 pandemic, Christopher's 2020 paper 'You Had One Job' ([link removed]) can refresh the memory. Read here ([link removed]) .

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Poor service...
As Victoria mentioned, this week the IEA released her latest Who Regulates the Regulators? paper on the Financial Ombudsman Service ([link removed]) . It received coverage in The Times ([link removed]) , City AM ([link removed]) and the i Newspaper ([link removed]) , in addition to a range of regional press outlets. Victoria penned an oped for CapX calling for major reform, which you can read here ([link removed]) .

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Rish-ful thinking? Gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 16.9 per cent from July to September, and 1.3 from October to December, according to revised data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This surpassed original estimates of 16.1 and 1 per cent respectively, and led to reports that the Chancellor is now confident of a strong economic recovery. Responding to the news, IEA Economics Fellow Julian Jessop said:

"As the government eases lockdown restrictions, it is likely that the UK economy will bounce back more strongly than many are expecting. This will help to repair the public finances, too.

"Rather than cede to calls for further tax increases, the government should focus on growth-supporting measures to boost the recovery and ease the burden on households and businesses, including tax simplification, tax cuts and deregulation."

Julian's comments featured in the Daily Mail ([link removed]) and the Daily Express ([link removed]) .

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Online harms... Julian also spoke to The Telegraph about the Biden Administration's threat to implement retaliatory tariffs on British products, originally planned by Donald Trump, in response to the UK's digital services tax (DST).

He said: "This was entirely predictable. These taxes largely impact US-based firms and the US has a strong case that they are a form of discriminatory tariff in breach of WTO rules."

Read the article here ([link removed]) .

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#openthepubs... The Daily Mail reported on Tuesday that Covid jabs have reduced the number of deaths among the over-70s by 97 per cent. Commenting on the news, IEA Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon argued that the success of the UK's vaccination programme should speed up our exit from lockdown measures.

He said: "With 90 per cent of pensioners having antibodies, there is a strong case for fully reopening the hospitality sector on April 12".

Read the article in full here ([link removed]) .

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Labouring under false pretences... As the National Living Wage rose by 2.6 per cent and was, for the first time, extended to 23 and 24 year olds, IEA Editorial and Research Fellow Professor Len Shackleton expressed concern that the government appears unwilling to challenge obstructions to the free functioning of labour markets. In an opinion piece for the Telegraph, Len said:

"Getting lower-skilled workers back into employment must be a priority for the next few years, and higher minimum wages won’t help. This might not matter quite so much if other policies were being implemented to encourage job creation and labour market flexibility. But the drift seems to be in the opposite direction."

Read the piece in full here ([link removed]) . Len also wrote for the IEA Blog on the Report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The 260-page document has attracted predictable controversy, but it has also "opened up a debate in an area which has long suffered from too narrow a focus". Read Len's thoughts here ([link removed]) .
The suspension of a teacher from Batley Grammar School for showing pupils a cartoon image of the Prophet Muhammed has raised questions over free speech.

What has been largely absent from the exchange of opinion, however, has been a concern for the rights of the individual concerned regarding his contract of employment.

The Cultural Affairs Programme at the IEA has written to the local MP, Tracy Brabin, local councillors, as well as MPs from the neighbouring constituencies, to ascertain where they stand in relation to the call by some of the school’s pupils for him to be reinstated.

Marc Glendening, Head of Cultural Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

"It is currently unclear on what grounds the teacher in question was suspended. In the absence of any breaches of his employment contract, the failure to reinstate him raises serious concerns over freedom of expression not just for those in the teaching profession, but for younger generations and our society more widely."

You can read the letter in full here ([link removed]) .

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The Batley Grammar row formed part of this week's Live with Littlewood. Host and IEA Director General Mark Littlewood was joined by Political Commentator Alex Deane, Academy of Ideas Director Claire Fox, our Head of Regulatory Affairs Victoria Hewson, Economist Daniel Lacalle and Cieo Founder Joanna Williams.​

The panellists discussed whether a new international treaty was necessary to effectively respond to pandemics, whether lifestyle paternalism can really prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and how concerned we should be about over-regulation. Catch up here ([link removed]) .

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In the latest IEA Head-to-Head, William Clouston (Leader, Social Democratic Party) and Johan Norberg (Senior Fellow, Cato Institute) discussed whether the Ever Given grounding should be viewed as a warning about the risks of "excessive globalisation". Catch up on the fascinating debate, chaired by IEA Director General Mark Littlewood, here ([link removed]) .

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And in a recent IEA webinar, a panel of expert guests considered how the UK can uphold its international standing on harm reduction, and what measures are needed to improve current regulations.

IEA Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon chaired the discussion with panellists Mark Pawsey MP, Chair of the APPG on Vaping, Martin Cullip, Chair of the New Nicotine Alliance, and Clive Bates, Director of Counterfactual. The webinar is available to watch on our YouTube channel here ([link removed]) .

* Levelling Up and the Left

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"Levelling up" is a key phrase in modern political debates, with cross-party consensus on the need to boost the UK’s left-behind regions but a divide over how to achieve it.

On Monday 5^th April, from 1-2pm, a webinar co-hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs and the John Mills Institute for Prosperity will address why successive governments have failed to deliver prosperity to "left-behind Britain" and what innovative policies could turbocharge those areas.

Ashford Councillor Brendan Chilton will chair the event. He will be joined on the panel by: Professor Philip Booth, Director of the Vinson Centre for the Public Understanding of Economics and Entrepreneurship and IEA Senior Academic Fellow; Patrick Christys, talkRADIO host and political commentator; Caroline Flint, Chair of the Institute for Prosperity; and John Mills, entrepreneur and businessman.

This is a public event with a Q&A. Register here ([link removed]) to join.

* In Conversation.. with Arlene Foster

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On Wednesday 7th April, from 1-2pm, the Institute of Economic Affairs will host a discussion with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, The Rt Hon Arlene Foster MLA. IEA Director General Mark Littlewood will chair the event.

Arlene Foster has been the First Minister of Northern Ireland since January 2020, and previously from 2016 to 2017, and has served as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) since 2015. She is the first woman and the youngest person to hold both jobs. Arlene also previously served in the Northern Ireland Executive as Minister of the Environment, Minister for Enterprise and Investment, and Minister for Finance and Personnel. She has been a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Fermanagh and South Tyrone since 2003.

We hope you can join us for what is bound to be a fascinating discussion. You can watch it on our YouTube channel h ([link removed]) ere ([link removed]) .


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