Sharing Economy in the Party Conference spotlight

by Inline Policy on 02 Oct 2014

With the news on Monday that the UK Government has announced an independent sharing economy review, to be led by Love Home Swap CEO Debbie Wosskow, and also the recommendation last week from Labour Digital in its Number One in Digital report that the Government should “conduct a review the rules and regulations surrounding the sharing economy”, it is evident that this issue is becoming increasingly a topic at the forefront of politicians’ thinking. Given these developments, as well as the recent publication of reports from Nesta and PwC, it proved a timely moment for Inline to gather leading thinkers, business representatives and policy makers at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences to discuss what this all means for the UK.

Labour event participants – 23 September

  • Helen Goodman MP - Shadow Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Communications
  • Arnaud Bertrand - Founder, HouseTrip
  • Mike Masserman - Director of International Government Relations, Lyft
  • Helen Goulden - Executive Director, Innovation Lab, Nesta
  • Benita Matofska - Chief Sharer, Compare and Share

Conservative event participants - 29 September

  • Arnaud Bertrand - Founder, HouseTrip
  • Mike Masserman - Director of International Government Relations, Lyft
  • Stian Westlake - Executive Director, Policy and Research, Nesta
  • Will Hutton - Chair, Big Innovation Centre
  • Debbie Wosskow - CEO, Love Home Swap

It is worth underlining here that, as various panellists pointed out, the sharing economy is not new. People have always shared, collaborated and worked together, however, what is new is that due to technological advances people are able to do so on a much larger scale, and in entirely different ways. Moreover, entrepreneurs with an innovative idea about how to facilitate these sorts of activities are now able to build platforms and businesses at rapid scale which was simply not possible even five years ago. The possibilities are only just beginning to emerge and, as Will Hutton commented, we are only at the tip of an iceberg of a trend which could well define our times.

At both events, there was a broad consensus around what the main issues are within the economic, social and regulatory dimensions of the UK sharing economy. A number of key themes emerged throughout both discussions including:

1) New regulatory frameworks require careful consideration

- the sharing economy is not something, it was argued, which should be looked at through a single regulatory lens. There are numerous sub-sectors, each with their own regulatory issues (often at a hyper-local level as Arnaud Bertrand pointed out) to consider. That is not to say that guiding principles for developing new regulatory frameworks for sharing economy sectors should not be used, however, what is evident is that the sharing economy requires nuance. The message which came through loud and clear is that a proportionate and future-orientated approach to developing new regulation is central to the future growth of the sharing economy. As Stian Westlake incisively pointed out, a strong dose of humility is required from lawmakers, as finding the right regulatory answers will take time and experimentation.

2) Trust is paramount

- as Benita Matofska and others made clear, without trust and a supportive underlying infrastructure, the sharing economy will not fulfil its social or economic potential. This became a central thread of both discussions. The sharing economy ventures most likely to succeed will, it seems, be the ones that are most successful in engendering trust amongst users.

3) Better utilisation of assets

- whether it is peer-to-peer transportation, or peer-to-peer accommodation rental, sharing economy platforms provide a way in which existing assets can be used in a much more efficient way. This, as Mike Masserman and Arnaud Bertrand explored, has the potential to bring significant economic, social and environmental benefits. Ultimately, this is about the smarter consumption of the things we already have.

4) The personal and the commercial are becoming blurred

- sharing economy platforms are not just providing a way for the more efficient use of assets, they are also enabling more and more people to make additional income.

5) Move towards the mainstream

- as Benita Matofska outlined, there is an increasing shift towards corporate sharing where large established companies are either developing sharing economy style aspects to their business, or are entering into partnerships with sharing economy platforms to provide ways for their employees to share. Policy makers are also beginning to think about how they can incentivise companies to implement sharing programmes, especially when it comes to transportation.

6) Tackling digital exclusion is key

- with large numbers of people still unable to connect, or use, the internet, there is a risk, as Helen Goodman MP pointed out, that the people who could most benefit from the sharing economy, could be at risk of losing out. It is therefore incumbent on government, business and the charity sector to work together to ensure that digital exclusion is made a thing of the past.

7) If we think of the sharing economy as a sector, we may limit our ambition

- this was how Helen Goulden concisely put it. Essentially, if we limit ourselves to merely focussing on the economic drivers of the sharing economy, we may lose focus on other possibilities including how the broad principles of the sharing economy can be applied in other spheres such as public service delivery or academic research.

8) There are already a number of important building blocks in place to help the UK to become a leading sharing economy

- First, there was agreement that the UK already has a generally supportive policy and regulatory environment for tech start-ups. Second, the UK has a strong talent pool of skilled people who can help sharing economy businesses to thrive. Third, it was pointed out that UK consumers are early and enthusiastic adopters of new technology. Finally, it was also stated, by Stian Westlake, that the UK is home to a uniquely competent set of regulators.

It is clear that the sharing economy is a complicated area with advocates and critics taking wildly different views about its merits and value. Moreover, definitions of what it is, and what is not, vary considerably. This is a subject that stirs impassioned debate and it seems certain that politicians will be increasingly active participants in this discussion as the sharing economy matures.


Topics: UK politics, UK business, Economic policy, Big Tech

Inline Policy

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