North-South Free trade Agreements – Trade, Policy and Europe

At the University of Bristol Law School, we are investigating the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.

The following is a record of the findings of the panels speaking at an event held on 4 October 2017. The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU.

EU policy relating to North-South trade agreements

Clair Gammage (Bristol) discussed the transformation of the EU’s relationship with its trade partners across the African, Caribbean, and Pacific regions and was able to point to the surprising small victories that low-income countries in the Global South had achieved when negotiating trade agreements with the EU. Continue reading

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Using administrative data for labour market research: getting the balance right

Isabel Stockton, PhD Student, School of Economics, Finance and Management, and panel participant in Research without Borders 2017

Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.

However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.

For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.

Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.

Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading

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Why everyone benefits from the scrapping of employment tribunal fees

Professor Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

Unfairly dismissed from your job? Seeking unpaid wages? For the last few years, if you wanted your case heard at an employment tribunal in the UK, you had to pay up front. For unfair dismissal, the fees amounted to £1,200, and for unpaid wages £390.

Introduced in 2013, the fees were designed to ensure that “users” of the system were the ones who funded it. The other justifications were to incentivise early settlements, and to deter weak or vexatious claims.

Underlying all these motivations was a concern that too many cases were being brought. And in that sense, the fees sort of worked.

That was mainly because the high level of fees (for workers who hadn’t been paid or had lost their job) compared unfavourably with the low level of sums awarded. A survey in 2013 found the median award for claims for unpaid wages was only £900. Put simply, it just wasn’t worth it. Continue reading

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Cheap goods at what cost? How the EU Road Package can address ‘unfair payments’ to truck drivers

© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter Turnbull, profile photo

Professor Peter Turnbull, School of Economics, Finance & Management, University of Bristol

As you drive home at night, do you ever pause to think about the many trucks parked in lay-bys at the side of the road? You might be only a few miles from home, but the driver’s home could be thousands of miles away. Imagine if the truck door was the front door to your home, the truck cabin both your office and your bedroom. If this sounds far-fetched, then spare a thought for the thousands of East European truck drivers who work for weeks on end, sometimes months, in Western European countries, driving, eating and sleeping in their cab.

A survey of around 1,000 East European road haulage drivers published by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in 2013 found that the majority (60%) spent between 3-12 weeks away from home, 80% cooked and ate their own food in the lorry, 95% took their breaks and rest periods (including the weekly rest of 45 hours) in their lorries (contrary to EU working time regulations), 60% were paid by driven kilometres (despite EU Regulation 561/2006, Art.10 forbidding payments per kilometre schemes that have a negative impact on road safety), approximately 80% of the interviewed drivers stated that fatigue was a problem but they would not report it as they were afraid lose their job. A more recent 2015 study of 225 Bulgarian, Romanian and Macedonian drivers working in Denmark found that the average time working and living in their lorry away from home was 7 weeks (88% slept in their lorry most nights), pay was just €1,100 to €1,900 per month (16% were paid on the basis of kilometres driven), drivers reported regular breaches of the rules on working time and 13% stated that their employer exerted pressure on them to break the rules on driving and resting times. Continue reading

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“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

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Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look back to the 1960s for some pointers.

For nearly a century, governments have tried to shape Britain’s industrial and commercial landscape. Yet, whilst they often wanted to raise industry’s efficiency and competitiveness, historically there was little consensus on how best to do it. And, whilst ‘industrial policy’ and ‘regional policy’ were often in evidence, the crafting of a broader ‘industrial strategy’ was a rarer event. Continue reading

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What is the point of Business?

Businesses are, in some respects, like cement. They are an integral part of the society we inhabit, and yet for the most part invisible to us as tangible entities. We give them little thought, but our lives would be very different were we to wake up to a world without either.

David Hunter, Charity & Social Enterprise Department (Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP) and Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

David Hunter, Consultant, Charity & Social Enterprise Department (Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP) and Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

Ms Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise (University of Bristol Law School).

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise (University of Bristol Law School).

In April 2016, the UK government did invite us to think about the nature of business though as part of what it called a Mission-led Business Review. It set up an Advisory Panel and ran a public consultation and, seven months on, the Panel has reported back to the government with its recommendations. The timing is interesting, with the review commencing when David Cameron was still Prime Minister, before the UK’s Referendum on EU membership and the US election, but the publication of the Panel’s findings coming when those events have demonstrated a clear sense of public discontent with the status quo.

What was the Review about, what is a ‘mission-led business’ and what are the likely responses to and impact of the Panel’s findings?

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Culture in the banking regulators: the need for challenge

Dr Holly Powley, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Holly Powley, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a debate has been raging about the culture of financial services institutions – both in terms of how individuals working with financial institutions conduct themselves, but also on attitudes towards risk-taking within these institutions.

Given that banks are now considered to provide consumers with a service that is essential to the operation of the modern economy, this is an important debate. However, those tasked with regulating and supervising the banking sector haven’t escaped this scrutiny either.

If the UK is to avoid a future financial crisis of the magnitude experienced between 2007 and 2009, there also needs to be a culture change within the institutions tasked with overseeing the UK’s financial services sector.

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How mathematics can fight the abuse of big data algorithms

Prof Alan Champneys,  Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

Prof Alan Champneys, Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

“Is maths creating an unfair society?” That seems to be the question on many people’s lips. The rise of big data and the use of algorithms by organisations has left many blaming mathematics for modern society’s ills – refusing people cheap insurance, giving false credit ratings, or even deciding who to interview for a job.

We have been here before. Following the banking crisis of 2008, some argued that it was a mathematical formula that felled Wall Street. The theory goes that the same model that was used to price sub-prime mortgages was used for years to price life assurance policies. Once it was established that dying soon after a loved one (yes, of a broken heart) was a statistical probability, a formula was developed to work out what the increased risk levels were.

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The Bristol City Office – what’s it all about?

Tessa Coombes - PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Tessa Coombes – PhD student in Social Policy, University of Bristol

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Bristol City Office, an idea that has been six years in the making. It’s an idea that seeks to address some of the challenges faced by the public sector, with ever decreasing budgets and reducing powers. It’s about partnership and collaborative governance, bringing organisations, individuals and budgets together to tackle the issues that we have failed to tackle before, where collaboration and joint working are essential, alongside the willingness to be creative and innovative. But why will this approach work when other attempts have failed and how is this different?

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