The idea of ‘consumer engagement’ has become a central theme in UK economic regulation. Regulators are demanding it, regulated companies are claiming to be pursuing it – but nobody quite knows what ‘it’ (i.e. consumer engagement’) might actually represent. So what does research on consumer engagement tell us?
In our recent Policy & Politics article on Customer Engagement in UK water regulation, we argue that the idea of consumer representation in UK utility regulation is, of course, not particularly new. The ‘old’ age of publicly owned utilities was characterised by a range of consumer representative bodies. While some managed to survive into the age of privatisation, the key emphasis has been on relying on regulatory bodies themselves to play a consumer representation function since the 2000s. But since the late noughties, putting the consumer at the heart of regulation has become a central theme in UK utility regulation and water regulators in the UK have recently experimented with different mechanisms of customer engagement. Continue reading Should regulators engage consumers in decision-making? Lessons from UK water regulation→
In 2013, Britain’s electricity markets were reorganized through Electricity Market Reform (EMR). The programme of EMR sought to prioritise the public goods of energy security and climate change mitigation. This marked a shift away from free markets towards a greater role for state direction in the energy market.
In our Policy & Politics article entitled Electricity Market Reform: so what’s new? we use grid group cultural theory to explain changes in the regulatory regime under EMR. Cultural theory claims that regulatory actions result from more cultural biases: individualism, hierarchy, egalitarianism and fatalism. Individualists privilege free markets, hierarchs privilege expert and government authority, egalitarians emphasise equity, the environment and community lead decision-making and fatalists are resigned to carious fate. We claim that EMR represents an incomplete shift from ‘individualist’ to ‘hierarchical’ approaches to the regulation of the British energy market.
Why is that immigrant barman fresh from architecture school designing only shamrocks on the head of your Guinness? Or that cleaning lady with perfect English and the degree in literature, why is she cleaning the blackboard at your kids’ school and not teaching at it? Traditional accounts of immigrant success, or otherwise, in the labour market highlight a number of important, even obvious, factors at play in outcomes such as these: grasp of the language, level of education, time in the country, and networks of contacts all matter.
The UK private security industry has been playing an interesting and tricky hand of late. On one side, the Coalition government has presented it with huge opportunities for growth by simultaneously slashing police budgets and promoting outsourcing. On the other side, it has been prevented from taking full advantage of these opportunities because of its rather shady reputation – a problem intensified by recent high profile scandals, from the 2012 Olympics security debacle to overcharging the Home Office on electronic tagging contacts.
One central way in which the industry has been playing this hand has been to throw down the regulation card. The industry has been using statutory regulation to cover itself in the reassuring images and symbols of the state, thereby cleaning up its shady image to a certain degree and putting itself in the position of being able to take full advantage of any opportunities coming its way.
In this article, we call this ‘normative legitimation’: the process through which the private security industry seeks to legitimate its activities to sceptical citizen-consumers by appealing to the state-centric norms which permeate the domestic security sector. We argue that this process creates an unusual and interesting regulatory politics. The more the state introduces regulation to protect the public from the industry, the more the state (consciously and unconsciously) legitimates the industry and allows it to come into further contact with the public.
After a brief tour through the history of liberal discourse and politics (where security becomes connected to the state), the article turns to the paradox of security regulation in postwar Britain. This article (we hope) will appeal to anyone interested in how the private security industry is positioning itself within today’s rapidly changing security landscape.