The UK cannot afford Sir James Dyson’s anti-competitive aspirations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/03/2018 - 5:14pm in

In an extraordinarily mistimed move the strongly pro-Brexit billionaire Sir James Dyson has made a demand that the UK  join the world's tax havens in abolishing the requirement that private companies (like his) must place their accounts on public record. Little could better indicate the planned tax haven, race to the regulatory bottom, trajectory of those supporting Brexit than such a demand.

As the FT has reported:

James Dyson has slammed UK rules that force privately owned companies to file accounts that can be viewed by the public, describing them as “anti-competitive” and handing an advantage to overseas rivals.

It's true that the US does not require this. Nor do many tax havens. But the EU does, of course. The FT added:

The billionaire inventor, famous for his bagless vacuum cleaners, said he saw “no reason” why private concerns such as his own should have to make the financial disclosures. “It’s not so much the cost of it — although there is a huge cost — it’s the fact that our competitors in foreign countries can see exactly what we’re doing and we have no sight of what they’re doing,” said Sir James.

So let me remind Sir James why we might require this. The list is not hard to understand.

First, it's because of limited liability. No one is asking for the accounts of unlimited companies to be placed on public record, just as I do not ask for private tax returns to be put on public record. So if Sir James wants privacy he has the option of enjoying it. All he has to do is agree to pay all his debts in full, come what may.

But, if he wants protection from his creditors if, for example, his £2 billion electric car scheme fails, which limited liability would most likely provide, then he has to make use of a limited liability company.

That choice is, however, not costless. It imposes a real burden on society. BHS proved that, as have so many others, including no doubt Toys'r'Us and Maplin, only yesterday. And the cost falls on a wide variety of people, including providers of loan capital, suppliers, customers, employees, tax authorities, regulators, host communities in the form of local authorities and civil society at large who bear the externalities of business activity. All these groups need to know the risk they take when dealing with a business that may not pay its debts, and require the information to make sure that their down side is managed as far as possible.

I would argue that stakeholders do not get all the information they need to do this at present. Country-by-country reporting is one obvious case where there is an exception. Sir James clearly thinks they get too much. But this is not the point. The point is to ask why Sir James thinks he should get all the gain and those who pay the price get all the cost? The answer is not clear.

Nor is it clear that, secondly, Sir James is really that clued up when it comes to what is an anti-competitive measure. If he had the slightest understanding of economics  then he would know that competitive markets are only efficient at allocating resources when all those working in them have perfect knowledge of what their competitors are doing.

Now, I know that perfect knowledge is not possible, of course. But we need to approximate to it. Unless we do the claim that markets allocate resources efficiently really cannot be sustained. What we get instead is market abuse, monopoly, and anti-consumer activity as well as practices where large companies (of which Sir James' is one) tend to exploit smaller ones because there is an unlevel playing field, not least with regard to information. This is what anti-competitive means. Being exposed to the risk that the market might not decide to deal with you because they do not like the risk of doing so, which is what Sir James is worried about, is about creating a competitive environment. Maybe, and I can only guess, it is that which he does not like?

Whatever the reason though, what Sir James does is reveal the true reason why those business persons backing Brexit did so. They wanted to race regulation to the bottom for their own gain at cost to others. This is, of course, the classic tax haven model.

Sir James is, of course, welcome to go to such a place. But he will find there are problems. There will be almost no trained employees, and little industrial infrastructure. There will be barriers to trade. And there are remarkably few customers. That's because the places that permit the kind of secrecy to which he thinks the UK should aspire are far removed from the realities of commerce. Theirs is a world of make believe where all that matters are the rights of the wealthy and their companies to hide from the view of those on whose backs their wealth is made.

I'm sorry Sir James, but that's not the type of country that I, or the vast majority of the people in the UK, want to live.

As I have pointed out, you have options to secure your privacy, and you can afford to take them. But we cannot afford to grant them. You may leave if you wish. But we want a strong, competitive and informed economy, which is not what you would appear to aspire to. If that means there has to be a parting of the ways, so be it. But the UK cannot afford your deeply anti-competitive aspirations.

How transparent is government about the evidence behind policy?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/02/2018 - 7:50am in



Richard Clubbe discusses the mixed findings of Sense about Science’s spot check on how transparent government departments are about their evidence use.

Last week Sense about Science published a report on how transparent the UK government has been about the evidence behind its policies. Transparency of Evidence: A spot check of government policy proposals July 2016 to July 2017 looks at 94 policy proposals from 12 departments, each scored according to the ease with which readers could tell how evidence played into the decision. The project was supported by funding from the Alliance for Useful Evidence and the Nuffield Foundation, and was conducted in partnership with the Institute for Government.

When the evidence behind policy isn’t shared, citizens are unable to understand the motivations behind policy decisions, decide whether they agree, or contribute to constructive discussion around the issue. On top of this, researchers and analysts find it harder to contribute to the evidence base in a meaningful way, and the government is less able to build on its own past work.

Transparency is a prerequisite for assessing the quality of evidence behind a policy proposal. Our report doesn’t look at the merits of a particular policy or the quality of the evidence considered, but rather whether a reader can identify what evidence was used and how it was assessed.

In 2015, the Institute for Government, Sense about Science and the Alliance for Useful Evidence established an evidence transparency framework, designed to be rapidly applied to any policy proposal, which broadly asks:

‘Can someone outside government see what the government is proposing to do, and why?’

With this question at the core of our assessment, Sense about Science led a citizen-centred review that rewards policy proposals for clarity of reasoning and consideration of the audience. For our spot check, we recruited a group of 27 volunteers to score policy proposals against the transparency framework. No prior knowledge or experience of the policy area was required. Scorers approached the task as if they were a member of the public motivated to learn more about the policy.

For this spot check we defined policies as ‘specific interventions intended to change the status quo’. We assessed the documents publicly available at the point when the policy was first set out substantively. The time frame for our assessment was 13 July 2016, when Theresa May became prime minister, to the end of July 2017. From a (very!) long list of potential policy proposals announced during this period, we randomly selected six to eight policies from each of 12 departments for our spot check. The scoring group then read the policy documents and scored each policy against the transparency framework. Scores were verified by the research team from Sense about Science and the Institute for Government.

The framework breaks down policy assessment into four sections – diagnosis, proposal, implementation and testing and evaluation – with possible scores on a scale from 0 (indicating very little mention of evidence and explanation of its use) to 3 (indicating a consistently well-referenced discussion of the evidence behind the policy, including acknowledgment of uncertainties and gaps in the evidence base).

Reviewers found that departments were capable of attaining a high level of transparency in diverse policymaking situations – showing, importantly, that evidence transparency is achievable. The most consistently high scoring departments were the Department for Transport (DfT); Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Department of Health; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Department for Work and Pensions. DfT produced the highest scoring policy, ‘Cutting down on noise from night flights’, which received a 3 in every section of the framework. This was a strong example of how it’s possible to not only share the evidence being discussed, but also explore its limitations in the context of the policy area.

Sense about science image

Overall, the review revealed several areas of improvement since our preliminary assessment in 2016, which highlighted good and bad practice across government. One of the shortcomings revealed in that report was that often departments had compiled research during policy development but failed to clearly share this with the reader, either through poor referencing or complete omission. This year we observed more sharing of the research done by departments. Analysts should welcome this finding – they are seeing more of their good work being published by their departments, a trend that reflects well on their policies.

The least transparent area identified was testing and evaluation. To score well in this section of the framework departments are required to set out what they will measure in order to determine whether an intervention has been successful, and clear plans for the publication and use of those results. Our review revealed very few occasions in which this was discussed in detail. Of the 94 policies assessed, only four scored a 3 for testing and evaluation, while 64 policies scored a 0 or 1. Testing and evaluation is about considering what is working and helping to produce evidence that informs future policy decisions. Without measurable outcomes, it becomes very difficult to build upon past experience to create improved policy solutions in the future.

The transparency framework developed with the Alliance for Useful Evidence and Institute for Government could be used outside reviews such as this one. Over the last year we have used the framework to engage with departments through talks and workshops with senior civil servants, analysts and policy professionals, many of whom are keen to use the framework to ‘mark their own homework’ and improve their department’s scores in time for future reviews. Outside Whitehall, the framework has been shared through facilitated workshops at the away days of nine parliamentary select committees, a meeting of the European Commission’s Regulatory Scrutiny Board and international policy conferences like the What Works Global Summit. It has even been translated into Spanish for use in the Peruvian parliament.

We are currently planning to conduct a further spot check in two years’ time. The time period to cover and scope of departments, agencies and devolved governments to which we might extend the review will be decided over 2018.

Richard Clubbe is research and policy officer at Sense about Science and contributed to the research for this report. 

This project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Foundation, or the Alliance.

One word: path-et-ic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/11/2017 - 7:44pm in

I’m coming over a bit all Craig Revel Horwood this morning as a result of a report in the Guardian this morning that says:

Theresa May discussed the Paradise Papers with the leaders of 10 British overseas territories at their annual gathering in Downing Street on Tuesday, with the prime minister urging further action to combat tax avoidance.

A cross-party group of 12 MPs wrote to the prime minister last week requesting she set a deadline for tax haven jurisdictions under British control to publish registers of the real owners of shell companies.

May raised the issue of public registers at the meeting, a government source confirmed, and said work on tax avoidance could help enhance reputations internationally. However, the prime minister has so far refused to endorse the measure, which was championed by her predecessor, David Cameron.

There’s just one word that can be said in response to that. Path-et-ic.

Revenue transparency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 09/10/2017 - 7:55pm in

After much of last week in Scotland this week I am off to Washington, DC. I will be discussing government transparency on its revenue cycles at the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency at the invitation of the World Bank. It’s a mad trip: I will be back on Thursday.

The suggestions I will be making are based in part on some existing work, including that with Andrew Baker of Sheffield University on spillover effects.

I will also be developing themes presented in Scotland this year, most especially in my White Paper for Common Weal.

And there is new work that I am developing on tax gaps that I will be discussing but where papers are in fairly draft form at present, but which are intended to extend the underpinning for this analysis in ways not previously attempted, which is one of the directions for my work at City, University of London right now.

If blogging and moderation are a little erratic as a result of this, you now know why.

The UK government is failing to uphold proper standards in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/09/2017 - 6:02pm in

I think it appropriate to share this statement from Publish What You Pay, with whom I have had a long association. The statement provides a shocking indictment of UK government attitudes to civil society, good governnance, engagement and transparency:

The UK EITI Civil Society Network (CSN) regretfully announces its withdrawal from engagement with the UK EITI.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is an international standard for openness around the management of revenues from natural resources. It is designed to improve accountability and public trust for the revenues paid and received for a country’s oil, gas and mineral resources.

We oppose the UK Government’s unilateral decision on 26 September 2017 to give one organisation, Extractive Industries Civil Society (EICS), authority over certain civil society nominations to the UK EITI Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG). This decision contravenes sections 1.3 and 1.4 of the EITI Standard and is a breach of civil society’s right to determine its own representatives independently.

The CSN, which represents broad and mainstream civil society engagement with the UK EITI, a number of whose member organisations were instrumental in the establishment of the EITI internationally in 2003, has an agreed and published process for filling civil society MSG places, which was adopted by consensus.

In July 2017 we wrote to Margot James MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, who is the UK’s EITI Champion, expressing our concern at one organisation’s control of half of the civil society MSG seats and calling for a democratic, fair and transparent process for civil society selection.

In a further effort to find a solution in September 2017, and following consultation with government officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the CSN agreed to amend its Membership Principles to make reference to diversity and local UK communities affected by the extractive industries. The CSN also invited EICS to apply to join the CSN, which it refused to do. We have always sought in good faith to find a solution to the challenges faced on the issue of civil society representation.

The decision to give special status to one civil society organisation over its peers goes against the EITI’s founding principles. We withdraw from the process with immediate effect.

Full member organisations of the CSN:



The network also has more than 20 individual associate members, mostly affiliated to non-governmental organisations or academic institutions.

‘Promised’ Charity Money to Be Investigated

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2015 - 11:36am in