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Acute observations from Simon Wolfson

The CEOs have been out in force at The Times summit this week.  If you have a subscription, I urge you to read the contributions that have been published over the past couple of days.

In his Opinion piece, Lord Wolfson notes that the UK “boasts the world’s most developed online economy”.  He goes on to say:

It is no coincidence that this, the fastest growing part of the UK economy, is almost entirely unregulated.  If the internet had needed the planning permission required of its bricks-and-mortar counterparts, it would have been flatly refused.  Can you imagine how the planning committees would have reacted?  The equivalent of a vast new shop, outside the town centre, that undermined the high street and placed an additional burden on our road network through its deliveries…

Wolfson is not anti-internet, of course – far from it.  Online sales have been a primary driver for Next‘s growth, and relative stability, in recent years (Next is now shipping to 42 countries).  His argument – which I thoroughly endorse – is that governments should invest in, and encourage external investment in, infrastructure that will enable our economy to grow.  Nimbyism is combining with a loss of faith in the free market, which in turn creates an intellectual environment opposed to economic progress.

As this blog has noted before, retail customers will usually find a way to get what they want, and if established channels don’t provide it, there is a golden opportunity for alternatives to break through.  Raising standards in the UK isn’t just about education, welfare, taxation or human rights, important as these things are.  Despite the red-tape-cutting chatter of the past year, little has actually been done by government to create a more business-friendly environment.  That needs to change, for everyone’s sake.

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