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Markets for the Many: reviewing ResPublica’s report launch



Following the 2008 financial crash, there have been calls for a radical restructuring of the economy. But just how should this new system be organised? Nicky Stubbs recently attended an event hosted by the thinktank ResPublica, where a new report was launched that sought to answer exactly that.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that the UK woke up to the bad practices and irresponsible behaviour at some of the large banks that monopolise the markets. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which according to a government review accounts for around a third of the small and medium sized enterprise (SME) lending market, was recently attacked for its part in crushing small businesses by lending as little as possible and gaining as much as possible from those assets.

The accusations were compiled into a dossier by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) entrepreneur-in-residence Lawrence Tomlinson and delivered to the business secretary Vince Cable. Tomlinson reports that since the publication of his report, a further 1,000 businesses have approached his office with cases of mistreatment by the RBS Global Restructuring Group (GRG), which is responsible for helping businesses out in need.

This needs to change. We can no longer have big banks with one track minds manipulating figures and statistics in the name of quarterly capitalism, and in effect, fighting off competition within business by using those businesses as shields in their own competition against other big banks.

We are seeing a financial services industry where “the heart keeps pumping but the circulatory system has collapsed”, says Jeff Prestridge, personal finance editor of the Mail on Sunday. But how do we challenge this?

The ResPublica report sets out a number of ways in which the financial institutions can be better organised in order to best serve the needs of society, business and customers. At the launch of the report, David Llewellyn, professor of money and banking at Loughborough University, set out the need for diverse business models to be allowed to operate.

This is what we call the civic approach to finance. In many ways, the retail financial services industry has failed the consumer”, he said.

He added that one of the key problems within the industry was the lack of diversity. As such, we are seeing a monoculture, one which has developed and continues to operate on a sales model.

Llewellyn said, “Secondly, is the great benefit that can be had from diversity. We need effective competition. The way to do that is not to add more of the same model, but to have a diverse mix of business models and ownership models.”

He also said that reforming financial institutions should be based on a holistic approach. There have been proposals set out by the government to reform the banking industry in the Banking Reform Act 2013. The Labour party said that these new measures, which include further regulation on the banks in order to prevent a future crash, simply do not go far enough.

Labour’s Cathy Jamieson, shadow chief financial secretary to the Treasury, said, “Arguably, parliament has witnessed some of the most significant legislation relating to financial services reform in recent times, and I think it’s fair to say that the reforms we have seen so far are a move in the right direction [but] it doesn’t go far enough.”

She said that in order for the economy to make a real recovery, we need financial services that support small businesses, but also truly support the needs of our citizens and wider civic society. The current reforms, she added, do not promote diversity in models across the sector, instead adding a few more of the same. In order to create that, we need a more holistic approach to financial reforms in the future.

But where do building societies fit into all this? The prospect of a growth in building societies is significant, but the one main barrier to this growth is legislation. Current legislation dictates that 75% of building societies’ loan sheets must comprise of securities against residential property. This is a stumbling block.

Move Your Money, the campaign for better banking, gives building societies high marks for ethics and responsibility, when compared to banks. Not only this, but they also impress in customer satisfaction and care.

The financial services industry is currently disconnected from the needs of society, whilst society is very much dependent on its survival. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they both walked hand in hand?

We have a solution that is currently hindered by regulations that favour those who have done the global economy a great deal of damage in recent years. What we need is a level playing field so that alternative financial businesses can operate equally – before letting the consumer have the casting vote as to which is best for them.

Further reading:

Government should encourage SME lending, says thinktank

BankToTheFuture confirms talks with UK financial regulator 

Treasury looks to extend ISA reach to peer-to-peer finance and crowdfunding 

Miliband promises ‘new culture of long-termism’ in banking sector

Alternative finance grows 91% to raise nearly £1bn in 2013


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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