Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Easy As 123: Politicising The BBC

The BBC's Brexit logo speaks volumes

The reason that the BBC finds itself 'politicised' in this way is not because the BBC is 'biased' - at least not in the sense of simply taking one side in any given debate.  It's down to how the BBC frames its coverage of major events in the first place.

The BBC seems to take its editorial course from what the UK government (in this case) has decided to do. It then seeks to maintain 'balance' by covering all sides in the debate about how the UK should do what the government has decided, leaving behind the question whether the UK should be doing the thing at all

Viewing the whole Brexit scenario through the BBC's lens, therefore, means that the numerous investigations into collusion between Leave campaigns, where their funding came from and how they abused people's personal data become irrelevant to the BBC's Brexit coverage. So, too, are marches to secure a 'People's Vote'. Because those things relate to whether the UK should leave the EU, not how the UK should go about leaving - even when stopping the process remains an option.

This is not to say the BBC completely ignores the Electoral Commission fines, Information Commissioner fines and the launch of investigations by the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police and the Financial Conduct Authority into the affairs of Mr Banks and various other members of the Leave Campaign and Brexit community - not to mention all the lies, distortion and gaslighting that was involved. But the BBC treats these as historic issues related to the EU referendum, electoral reform, how personal data might be abused in elections more generally and, perhaps, the role of truth in politics. From the BBC's standpoint, they shouldn't form part of its Brexit coverage because they don't relate to how the UK leaves the EU. 

This is appalling for at least four reasons. 

Primarily, it becomes really easy for the UK government to "get the BBC on side" and use its vast resources as the government's own public address system when attempting something that is likely to prove hugely complex and controversial. The government simply has to decide to do it: invade Iraq, trigger Article 50 without a plan for how to leave the EU, ignore the Good Friday Agreement... 

Secondly, the BBC's editorial choice minimises dissent by removing the oxygen of publicity from those who are sceptical or critical of the government's decision; and diverting it to those who are broadly supportive of the outcome, even if they wish to quibble over how the government achieves that goal. This allows the likes of Andrew Neil to treat the diligent efforts of Carole Cadwalladr and other investigative journalists as irrelevant, at best.

Thirdly, by moving the focus away from how the government made its decision in the first place, the BBC's emphasis risks burying evidence of corruption and so on. The end has justified the means. This encourages the likes of Andrew Neil to declare that continuing to investigate evidence of corruption and other criminality in relation to those means is somehow 'mad'.

Finally, the BBC's approach means that its reputation (and licence-fee payers' investment in that reputation) is horribly exposed to the downside of major events - or the reversal of the government's decision. The bigger the downside, or the more significant the reversal, the greater the damage to the BBC's reputation. 

What should the BBC do?

Avoid setting its editorial policy to simply accord with what the UK government (in this example) wants to do - even if that is, or is presented as, "the will of the people". 

The BBC's role should simply be to educate "the people" about the options, their implications and consequences of decisions taken. This is not about being able to say "I told you so" - it's about the BBC re-establishing and maintaining its role as an apolitical, trusted source of news and information, so that the people aren't so easily hoodwinked.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

UK Govt Gives Consumers and Cross-border Traders a Dose Of #BrexitReality

Friday is never always the best day for the UK government to call people's attention to important issues. And so it proved with the critical alert on the impact of a 'No Deal' Brexit on your consumer rights. But just in case you did happen to be more concerned with wrapping up your week or queuing all day for a phantom train to your weekend destination, here's at least one key paragraph amongst all the gumph pearls of bureaucratic wisdom:
As the UK will no longer be a Member State, there may be an impact on the extent to which UK consumers are protected when buying goods and services in the remaining Member States. The laws of those states are similar but may differ in some areas to UK law both as respective laws evolve over time as well as due to differing levels of harmonisation between Member States in some areas. UK consumers will also no longer be able to use the UK courts effectively to seek redress from EU based traders, and if a UK court does make a judgement [er, judgment for court decisions], the enforcement of that judgement (sic) will be more difficult as we will no longer be part of the EU. In addition, there will no longer be reciprocal obligations on the UK or EU Member States to investigate breaches of consumer laws or take forward enforcement actions... UK consumers would need to seek redress through the courts of that state rather than UK courts.
There's also some fantastic news for consumers and businesses on some specific areas:
  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution;
  2. Package travel;
  3. Timeshare;
  4. Textile labelling; and
  5. Footwear labelling
some of which is in Annex A.

Of course, the paper omits any helpful links to warnings from the governments of the remaining 27 EU member states to their consumers about dealing with UK traders. I guess that information is being held back for another Friday...

Monday, 8 October 2018

In Brexit Britain Retail Will Be Mainly Online

When high street goods retailers call for increased taxes on e-commerce to subsidise their local business rates, you know their business models no longer make sense. Online retail sales now represent 17% of total retail sales in the UK, up from 5% in 2008. E-commerce is steadily taking over and UK consumers cannot afford to resist. Consumer debt is at its highest in history. So, add the rise in zero hours contracts with a Brexit headwind, and the shift to mainly online sales of goods should happen even faster. That in turn should boost the market for online sales more generally.

In typically populist fashion, all the usual suspects are blaming someone else. Tesco’s CEO has dubbed his plea for a 2% tax on any goods sold online an “Amazon tax”. He reckons this would raise a meagre £1.25bn but wants that spent on lowering the business rates for his physical stores. In other words, like newspapers, he doesn't make enough through his own online sales to subsidise his own under-performing bricks-and-mortar. 

Such a small sum will barely touch the sides within Tesco, yet it will increase all consumer prices for the ever-increasing volume of online sales. But the UK's over-indebted consumers simply can't afford that - and even if unemployment remains low, the number of zero hours contracts has tripled to account for a quarter of employment growth, and 2.8% of overall employment.
Similarly flawed is the UK Chancellor's populist "threat" that tech companies face a “digital services tax”.  It sounds good, but will be futile to protect UK offline retailers and simply raise consumer prices that won't be affordable.

The problem is high street retailers' failure to adapt to the long term trend of rising online sales. You can't blame that on the tax system. Taxes are something businesses have to factor into their planning, not the other way round. And taxes should be technology neutral, rather than making consumers and taxpayers subsidise legacy technology over innovative competition.

So, the sale of goods on the UK high street is doomed as we know it. But as they adapt or fade away, e-commerce for goods should boom. That will boost the market for directly related online services, such as point of sale finance, as well as the market for online services more generally.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Brits Look Away Now: Free Movement Of Non-Personal Data In the EU

The EU's "Digital Single Market" strategy has been boosted by an agreement to remove requirements for non-personal data to be stored in any one EU member state. The new law, approved in plenary by 520 votes to 81, with six abstentions, is due to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers on 6 November. It will apply six months after its publication in the EU Official Journal.

Restrictions on the free movement of personal data have long been relaxed under the EU data protection framework. The latest move is expected to double the value of the EU data economy to 4% of GDP by 2020.

In summary, the agreement means that:
  • public authorities cannot impose "unjustified" data localisation restrictions;
  • the data remains accessible for regulatory and supervisory control even when stored or processed across borders within the EU;
  • cloud service providers are encouraged to develop self-regulatory codes of conduct for easier switching of provider and porting data back to in-house servers, by mid-2020;
  • Security requirements on data storage and processing remain applicable when businesses store or process data in another Member State or outsource data processing to cloud service providers;
  • Single points of contact in each Member State will liaise with other Member States’ and the Commission to ensure the effective application of the new rules. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

EU Acts To Cut Fees For Cross-Border Payments In Non-Eurozone Member States

The pesky EU is at it again, this time trying to level the playing field for EU consumers and businesses by putting an end to the high cost of cross-border payments in currencies of Member States outside the Eurozone. Only Sweden took up the option to align the fees charged for those cross-border payments in Swedish krona with fees for krona payments within Sweden. Other non-Euro area countries, like the UK, did not oblige their banks to invest in the systems to do this. So, the European Commission is proposing a regulation to force banks in those Member States to cut their fees.

I've experienced the problems personally, as would anyone doing business across borders, travelling for business or pleasure, or shopping internationally online.

Business payments

Expecting the worst from Brexit (but hoping the whole fiasco will end with the UK remaining in the EU), I've added an Irish side to my business. That means getting paid in Euros and changing into GBP (if the funds are needed in the UK at all). To receive international payments to my GBP business bank account, my bank says I need an extra current account on its commercial banking platform (which I won't be able to see through the online access to my normal business current account). For that extra account, I'll have to pay £20 a month, plus their charge for converting each payment, plus their margin on the foreign exchange rate.

Compare that to £0 for receiving a UK payment in GBP to my existing, fee-free UK current account!

A study by Deloitte revealed other examples that punish small and medium sized businesses, as well as consumers.  It costs €24 to send €500 from Bulgaria to Finland, for instance, but sending €500 from Finland to France is like any normal payment within Finland or France - which is what the Commission wants to see in the non-Euro area.

Travelling or shopping

On a more personal level, you'll also be familiar with the tedious additional "choice" that everyone is forced to make when the currency of their payment card is different to the local currency. It's not so intrusive online, but a real pain for both you and the person serving you in a crowded shop, bar or restaurant. You have to be asked, or indicate on the card terminal whether you want (a) the "dynamic currency conversion" option, to pay in the currency of your card (at an unspecified rate that may include both margin for the local bank service provider and 'spread' for the retailer); or (b) to pay in the local currency, taking the risk that the conversion rate via the card scheme and your own bank's foreign transaction charge (if any) that you eventually see on your card statement will mean you're at least no worse off than whatever the local conversion rate was.

In this case, the Commission is proposing a short term cap on conversion costs, then a new model that shows you the actual cost of those options before you choose one.

After all, it's just data, folks! 

Cost Savings

The Commission found that extending the new rule from Euro transactions in the Eurozone to non-Eurozone Member States will save the affected customers €900m a year. That's because (a) the banks already have access to the modern system required, (b) at least 60% of cross-border transactions in the non-Eurozone Member States occur in Euros and (c) the cost of domestic transactions in those states is already low and couldn't be raised to subsidise the savings on the cross-border Euro transactions under competition rules.

It's worth noting that Eurozone banks did not raise fees when the first controls were imposed on cross-border payments in Euros - and in fact charges steadily decreased. Nor did Swedish service providers suffer when Sweden opted to extend the scheme to the krona.

Personally, I'm going to ignore the bank for my Euro payments until it gets its house in order - which might be never anyway. Even if the Euro/GBP conversion charge drops to zero, I'm sure it will still oblige me to take the commercial account on the more expensive platform and pay £20 a month for the privilege. It will argue that the move to a new current account does not relate to any single payment transaction or conversion, even though that's the only purpose I'd be taking the extra account.

No, what I'm going to do instead is open an account with one of the new foreign currency providers, so that a law firm can pay the provider in Euros, and the provider will pay me in GBP for a small, flat fee. 

FinTech wins again!

Ah, but Brexit...

Of course, all bets are off if the UK leaves the EU and decides to diverge from the EU trade rules relating to financial services.

In that case, banks - like telecoms companies who hate the EU's limit on roaming charges - will heave a sigh of relief.

Big business doesn't refer to the UK as "Treasure Island" for nothing!

Related Posts with Thumbnails