Reforming retail energy markets

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

Commissioned by, 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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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)

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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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 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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