Reforming retail energy markets

Reforming retail energy marketsTom Papworth and Patrick Day with Josh Thomas
April 2015

Commissioned by comparethemarket.com, this report finds that confusing tariffs and badly presented billing information are stopping people from getting the best deal on their energy. It warns that rates of switching have been in decline since 2012, despite efforts by the coalition government and watchdog Ofgem to make it easier for customers to change energy supplier.

As well as identifying general barriers to switching - such as lack of internet access - the report finds that the biggest problem facing energy consumers is the deliberately confusing way that suppliers present information.

Survey evidence suggests that bills are too complex and that tariff descriptions are buried in cryptic terminology, making like for like comparisons extremely difficult. This 'confusopoly' prevents effective competition in the energy market and leads to customers being ripped off.

Among the report's recommendations is a call for the regulator imposed 'Tariff Comparison Rate' to be scrapped - or better communicated - on the basis it can be misinterpreted as an accurate comparison tool for all consumers rather than the average customer.

The report also calls for a standardised 'Tariff Information Label', set out on a single page, so that people can make faster and more informed choices about their energy supplier.

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Access the media release

Select media coverage: BBC NewsCity AM, Evening Standard, MailOnlinePress Association

Rethinking the Blair Doctrine

Rethinking the Blair DoctrineNick Tyrone
April 2015

On the 24 April 1999, Tony Blair gave a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago in which he outlined what he described as the 'Doctrine for the International Community', but quickly became known as the 'Blair Doctrine'.

This paper argues that the former PM's rules of engagement remain a solid starting point for devising a liberal approach to foreign affairs policy – even though Blair chose to ignore his own advice in the lead up to the Iraq War.

The essay is the fifth in a series of papers addressing contemporary issues in public policy from a liberal perspective. A selection of these papers will be published collectively in a forthcoming special edition publication, 'The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015-2025'. Here are the others released so far:

Maajid Nawaz: On Blasphemy
Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack: Economic liberalism, climate change and green growth
Adam Corlett: Bold, liberal tax reforms
David Boyle: How to save public service choice for liberalism? 

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Select media coverage: NewStatesman (Staggers)

A labour of love?

A labour of love?Tom Frostick and Chris Thoung
March 2015

If the Labour party enters government in May 2015 it plans to reduce the undergraduate tuition fees cap in England from £9,000 to £6,000 a year. It also wants to increase maintenance grant support for students from lower income backgrounds.

This analysis finds that the negatives of the proposal – judged by what Labour says it wants to achieve – outweigh the positives. On the upside, the policy acknowledges that maintenance grants could have a positive impact on university participation. It would apply equitably to all undergraduates including those already studying when the policy is introduced. And it offers a choice to voters by reopening the debate about the balance between state and individual investment in undergraduate education.

On the downside, the typical beneficiary of the fees proposal is a graduate, 28 years after leaving university, earning more than £80,000 a year. Conversely, the lowest 60% of graduate earners by lifetime income gain little to nothing from the policy. In addition, Labour seems to overlook that applications from disadvantaged students have increased since the fees cap was raised to £9,000 a year, weakening the case that cap needs to be reduced.

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The route to employment

The route to employmentHolly Taggart and James Kempton
March 2015

Moving from economic inactivity into work can be challenging for someone with a mental health problem. But recovery colleges can help people make this transition. This report examines the role of these unique institutions, and suggests ways that their effectiveness can be enhanced. 

Initial evidence points to the uniquely educational approach of recovery colleges within secondary mental health services as having significant potential for impact on improving employment outcomes. 

The report argues that recovery colleges should therefore increase their focus on these employment outcomes, supported by more rigorous and systematic evaluation of the overall impact of the model.

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The liberal case for aviation

The liberal case for aviationTom Papworth and India Keable-Elliott with Patrick Day and Josh Thomas
March 2015

This paper considers questions of UK airport expansion from within a liberal tradition. Airports have both benefits and disbenefits, and balancing these so as to maximise individual freedom and social progress is the challenge faced by liberals of all parties.

On the positive side, airports facilitate travel and improve our connectivity with the rest of the world, thus providing a good for which people have a strong and increasing demand, and helping strengthen our links (personal, commercial and political) with the rest of the world. They also have profound economic effects, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of income for staff, shareholders and the government.

On the negative side there are a number of environmental externalities. Globally, the main challenge is the emission of greenhouse gases. Locally, the biggest issue is noise, though airports also have impacts on air and water quality, biodiversity, landscape and waste. It is these undesirable impacts on individuals or society generally – including indirect effects through impacts on nature – that fuel opposition to runway expansion.

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Open public services – better public services?

Open public servicesQuentin Maxwell-Jackson
March 2015

'Open public services – better public services?' contains a series of case studies to show where privatised and public owned services have succeeded and failed.

The report finds that competition only works when there is a realistic prospect of providers losing their contract, and that the most successful outsourcing deals are small in scope and easy to manage.

It also finds that success across both sectors - public and private - can be attributed to common ways of doing things, including the use of appropriate information and performance measures.

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Access the media release

Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "When looking at a discussion in the public sphere which at present mostly revolves around a simplistic Labour-public sector provision good versus Tory-public sector provision bad axis, it is refreshing to see a paper which outlines the strengths and weaknesses of both, as well as identifying why the success stories from either side of the fence worked as they did."

How to save public service choice for liberalism?

Bold, liberal tax reformsDavid Boyle
March 2015

This paper looks at choice and its meaning through the prism of public service provision. David Boyle asserts that neither the Right’s response to poor choice in regards to public services (let bad providers go bust) nor the Left’s (grin and bear bad services for the overall common good) is really good enough.

"Quality" is another word that has lost a great deal of meaning dependent on which political party stripes it’s being uttered under. What counts as quality in public service provision will inevitably cover a huge number of factors.

The essay is the fourth in a series of papers addressing contemporary issues in public policy from a liberal perspective. A selection of these papers will be published collectively in a forthcoming special edition publication, 'The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015-2025'. Here are the others released so far:

Maajid Nawaz: On Blasphemy
Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack: Economic liberalism, climate change and green growth
Adam Corlett: Bold, liberal tax reforms

Download the report

Broadcasting by consent

Fit for growth: investing in a stronger skills base to 2020Jacquie Hughes
February 2015

'Broadcasting by consent' identifies the need for a fresh and clear statement of public service broadcasting for the modern era. It argues that BBC Charter renewal in 2017 should provide to the corporation a clear instruction to transform itself over the next decade towards an operating base that is more closely aligned with a pluralistic, competitive, digitalised broadcast industry.

The paper supports greater contested funding for wider elements of the licence fee over the period of the next Charter. While retained, the licence fee should be reconfigured to embrace consumption of all media regardless of equipment used. Its reach should be extended to apply to every UK household.

The paper also urges a shake up of the corporation’s senior appointments process to ensure greater transparency. The chair of the BBC Trust should continue to be appointed by the relevant secretary of state, but made on the recommendation of the civil service commission through independent and open recruitment. The same arrangement should be put in place for the appointment of all non-executive directors to the BBC Trust Board.

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Access the media release

Read CentreForum's response to the DCMS Select Committee report on the future of the BBC (26 February 2015)

Select media coverage: The Sun, The Times

Bold, liberal tax reforms

Bold, liberal tax reformsAdam Corlett
February 2015

We hear a lot about how government should spend (or not spend) our money, but far less about how that revenue could best be raised. Yet the design of the tax system – which collects over a third of GDP – shapes our economy and society. The UK’s taxes are in need of reform over the next decade and liberals – through our philosophy, policies and political influence – are best placed to deliver them.

This paper examines six of the most important challenges: simplifying income taxes; taxing investment returns intelligently; fixing corporate tax biases; reforming inheritance tax; taxing real estate; and making consumption taxes fair.

The essay is the third in a series of papers addressing contemporary issues in public policy from a liberal perspective. A selection of these papers will be published collectively in a forthcoming special edition publication, 'The Challenges Facing Contemporary Liberalism: 2015-2025'.

The first, by Maajid Nawaz, can be viewed here and the second paper, by Tim Farron, Neil Stockley and Duncan Brack, here.

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Fit for growth

Fit for growth: investing in a stronger skills base to 2020Tom Frostick
February 2015

'Fit for growth: investing in a stronger skills base to 2020' looks at how policymakers can build a skills system that promotes choice and flexibility for individuals and is more responsive to employer demand.

As well as proposing a revamped version of the professional and career development loan to widen access to lifelong learning and training, the report calls for new universities legislation that would better protect the student interest, and an intensive focus across schools and colleges on boosting literacy and numeracy; building pupils' character and entrepreneurial qualities; and raising the standard of teaching and careers guidance.

Other recommendations include making better use of professional bodies to support workplace training, and a call for greater clarity around the funding and expected outcomes of apprenticeships. The report's authors come from a number of fields and include representatives from academia and business, a professional body and a trade association.

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Access the media release

Select media coverage: TESTimes Higher

Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP: "This is a welcome initiative from CentreForum and the Chartered Insurance Institute bringing together some thoughtful ideas on the future direction of skills policy."

Dr Sandy Scott, CEO, Chartered Insurance Institute: "The CII welcomes this report and the light it shines on the building blocks required to boost the UK's skills base, both in the short and longer term."