Sharing Economy sharks need love, cuddles and SUBSIDIES – UK.gov

'Independent reviewer' demands her industry is showered in gold

Analysis The government’s controversial “Independent Review” of so-called “sharing economy” companies – such as Uber – has concluded that they should be encouraged to self-regulate while receive government nurturing and love – and your money.

To lead the review, the government appointed Debbie Wosskow, the CEO and founder of LoveHomeSwap.com – which is, er… a “sharing economy” startup. To widespread astonishment, Wosskow has concluded companies just like her own are hugely beneficial to the UK economy and should receive government support. Lots of it.

The portmanteau term "sharing economy" encompasses outfits with little in common other than that they all run a website, and some of them shift liability and risk onto their users. So, property and asset leasing companies like AirBnB, which is a listing service for private accommodation rentals, are described as being part of the "sharing economy". Yet so too is car ride service Uber, backed by Google. Uber is distinguished really only by its use of what seems to amount to zero-hours contracts and by demand pricing. There's no technical magic to Uber; it simply uses drivers on contract terms that many other drivers wouldn't accept.

Background vetting checks, meet the “sharing economy”

In an acknowledgement of the risks of legitimising such operations, the review recommends that criminal records checks should be “done quickly, more cheaply, and integrated into third party services such as sharing economy platforms”. That should do the trick. Vetting requirements should be removed so the public sector can make more use of such services.

Wasskow wants the startups to self-organise into a trade association where they can give each other kitemarks for safety and quality.

Naturally, Wosskow also recommends that “targetted financing” – or subsidies in plain English – should be chucked at the new mini-Ubers. She also wants a new quango – an “innovation lab” – to be established. Nesta - the former quango-now-charity which sits on the Lottery endowment – and InnovateUK (formerly the TSB) should run this, her report concludes.

Taxpayer-funded Innovate UK inhabits some of the swankiest offices in the UK and recently opened this £4m “innovation playground” in central London. Both bodies will be responsible for the hand-outs – but Britain’s burgeoning consultant class isn’t excluded (doing studies of some kind) and there’s something for public sector consultants in the regions, too (“work with cities and local areas to see how sharing economy approaches (sic) can help areas to work better together and use resources more efficiently").

“Egregious breaches of regulation – for example, letting out a large number of rooms through sharing economy platforms, but not complying with tax and regulatory requirements – must be dealt with firmly,” she notes, but by who, and how, isn’t specified. There’s nothing in the review to stop established car hire firms, or hotel chains “sharifying” themselves out of existing regulation. In fact, they’d be foolish not to.

Property owners – particularly Conservative-voting ones - will be intrigued to discover that they shouldn’t be able to choose their tenants. The review recommends that:

The standard tenancy agreement template should be updated to remove the current explicit ban on subletting – tenants should be able to ask their landlords to sublet parts of their property for a period of time.

The review also recommends the government’s vapourware identity service Verify be “opened up to the public” – suggesting Wasskow may not have written the report entirely by herself. Verify is the brand slapped over the Government’s identity assurance program (IDAP), which is several years overdue and still a long way short of being operational, as the BBC discovered here.

“We will back the innovators, challengers and agitators nationwide who are tearing up traditional business models and creating new jobs across the country,” said business minister Steve Bong Matthew Hancock. The review was done and dusted in just six weeks. Nevertheless Hancock declared it tip-top and promised to implement as much of it as he can before the General Election.

You may wonder how someone with such a deep conflict of interest ended up figureheading a government “independent review”. In what way is Ms Wasskow independent of the sharing economy?

A BiS spokesperson told us she isn't; "independent” now means "independent of government", and not, as you might think, someone who is independent of the subject area on which they are reporting.

You can read the whole thing here. ®

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